“Shoulder MRI” by Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

Graphing Uncertainty V by Christine Crockett, abstract painting of lines and triangles in red and black

Image: “Graphing Uncertainty V” by Christine Crockett. “Shoulder MRI” was written by Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2024, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco


It doesn’t hurt it is
The pain
is toothaches, but
A refugee. There is
a word.
It’s like a hammer
and a nail, how everything
becomes your
pain. It sleeps and wakes.
It wakes you up. It goes all
egg-shaped, tastes
of blood. You
picture pain
in little threads, tender
as clams. Papier maché. You see
the torn part. No
one knows that it is there. It hates
this too.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
February 2024, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the series editor, Megan O’Reilly: “Even the title of this poem alone seems to me to resonate with the enigmatically compelling image—the abstract, angular, black-and-white tone reminiscent of an MRI scan. As the piece unfolds, I see an even stronger connection between the two: There’s an objectivity, a detachment, to the way the speaker describes pain, and yet also a vulnerable rawness that comes through, a contrast that reflects the distinction between the black-and-white angularity and the rounded red shape in the center. I love the way the poet writes in mostly clipped, staccato phrases—‘A refugee. There is / a word. / It’s like a hammer’–that don’t bely any feeling, and then the last line is the first time emotion is explicitly introduced, a surprising ending that renders the poem suddenly personal. In image and words alike, there is a beating heart under all this abstraction.”

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