Skip to Content


By Travis Chi Wing Lau

All day, all night the body intervenes.
                                                                      —Virginia Woolf

1. I shrug off my messenger onto the floor and forget to kiss you when I walk through the door.
Pith: the pain has its steel hoop around my lumbar.

2. I catch myself tottering—a deformation of my walk.
Pith: a family resemblance: the curvature progresses faster than any other before me. I am not yet thirty.

3. I take a tumble after I miss the curb.
Pith: had you not caught me by the arm, I would have finally broken my first bone.

4. I switch positions before I even alight.
Pith: I never thought pain would claim intimacy for its own.

5. I crack three different places. It annoys you. It worries you.
Pith: they said it would make my knuckles bigger, but it is one of my most futile of pleasures.

6. I submerge myself in an epsom bath.
Pith: smelling like eucalyptus and lavender is the closest to relief because you can fool at least one of your senses.

7. I lay against you as we watch the ship go into warp.
Pith: I laid this way while doing homework all through high school, and my case silently went from light to moderate.

8. I cannot form sentences. Non-sequitur, organic hesitancy.
Pith: I would never wish upon anyone a life in the thickness of fog. The shame of being lost in it. 

9. I can’t make it up the stairs while cradling the box.
Pith: I hate admitting that I will have to depend on you more and more. That you will have to lie to me that it’s okay.

10. I am cold and distant.
Pith: pain is subterranean, a geography to which you will forever be foreign. To be present is to also be far away.  

11. I will myself to take deeper breaths. You think something is wrong.
Pith: the shallowest part of me is my breath. Some days feel breathless in all the wrong ways.

12. I look perpetually exhausted.
Pith: pain redefines what labor means.

13. I look unhappy.
Pith: joy so often feels remote, but you are teaching me that it never left me.

14. I wish it were otherwise.
Pith: magical thinking can really be cruel optimism.

15. I choose not to operate.
Pith: why should a boy ever have to choose between a life in motion or recumbence?





Listen as Travis Chi Wing Lau reads "Pithy".

Added: Monday, June 13, 2022  /  Used with permission. Originally published in Paring (Finishing Line Press, 2020).
Travis Chi Wing Lau
Den Sweeney

Travis Chi Wing Lau (he/him/his) is Assistant Professor of English at Kenyon College. His research and teaching focus on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature and culture, health humanities, and disability studies. Alongside his scholarship, Lau frequently writes for venues of public scholarship like Synapsis: A Journal of Health Humanities, Public Books, Lapham’s Quarterly, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His poetry has appeared in Wordgathering, Glass, South Carolina Review, Foglifter, and Hypertext, as well as in three chapbooks, The Bone Setter (Damaged Goods Press, 2019), Paring (Finishing Line Press, 2020), and Vagaries (Fork Tine Press, 2022). To learn more, please visit Travis's website.

Other poems by this author