On Cold Sores

by by Emily Segal

The lip begins to throb in the morning. The warning sensations of a cold sore are itching, burning and increased sensitivity, but the real feeling is the Greek herpein, creeping: the lip's insidious choice to break ranks.

The prickles mean the lip has begun to gain topology. Creeping is the sensation of the earth's crust folding and deforming, of a mountain about to be born. The formation of a mountain is orogenesis, from the greek oros, mountain, and genesis, birth. If one gets messy about it and takes the wrong book down from the shelf, orogenesis is the birth of the mouth, from the Latin os, oris: the mouth, opening.

A cold sore that pops up and splits open is both versions, correct and incorrect: it is the making of a new and tiny mountain, and a new and tiny mouth. Like a mouth, it is a cleft, a pink flesh cavity with lip on either side. Like a mountain, it is an elevated landform, a protruding thing.
The creeping of herpein is the motion of a lizard, slinking and gliding. This is the same motion as a rumor spreading, the opening of one mouth after another.

Herpes simplex I [Oral] is Herpes labialis. It is important to note that labia are any lips, including but not limited to the vaginal. Labial consonants are those articulated either with both lips (bilabial articulation) or with the lower lip and the upper teeth (labiodental articulation). English [m] is a bilabial nasal sonorant, [b] and [p] are bilabial stops, [v] and [f] are labiodental fricatives. The Herpes ulcer may or may not interfere with the formation of these.

Herpes labialis is an inf(l)ection caused by the Herpes simplex virus. The virus leads to the advance of small and usually quite painful blisters on the skin of the lips, mouth, gums or surrounding areas. Mild fever may occur. Occasionally, yellow crusts, like lava, can form on the tip of the blister, sloughing later to reveal raw skin.

The virus hides in the nerve tissue of the face, but can be passed on with the help of a kiss, a razor or a towel. Antiseptic soaps can minimize spreading, as can an expensive cream made from sea anemones. Most Americans are infected with the Type 1 virus by the age of 20. Herpes infection of the eye is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, which is why it is fortunate to stay labial.

Herpes labialis is the creeping of the lips, a mouth revolt; sometimes it is a fever blister, but always it is a cold sore.

In another book on the shelf, sores are many--
Severe, fierce, hot. Strong, weighty, valid. Pain and/or suffering. Bodily affliction. Skin or flesh that appears painfully tender or raw. An ulcered place. Painful through inflammation or other morbid condition. Of blow, bite, weapon. Of storms, weather. Involving great hardship. Of trials or temptations. Mud, now (in Cheshire and Yorkshire) black mud, liquid manure, drainage. A red herring. A point of vexation. Venery, a buck in its fourth year. Falconry, a hawk in its second. A bear with a ____ head, used allusively for a type of peevishness. -Eyed; also sheath-billed pigeons, which have reddish caruncles around the eyes. A hawk of the first year that has not moulted and still has its red plumage; hence applied to plumage itself; occas. extended to other birds of prey, as the kite and eagle. Of a horse, of a reddish brown color. Of the hare: to traverse open ground.
--and cold is something:

A well-known property of the air, of being colder than one's skin. A thing that hovers around the body and vibrates more slowly. A bath that is colder than a hot bath. A deprivation of motion, or of the dirt that fills a pit. A manner of lying flat on sandy boards, drooling. The area around a weapon. Light without heat. One stymied in a maze. Beyond the door of a room with a stove. A lunch that is not a hot lunch. Roast beef that has stiffened. The sensation of ague. The opposite of something pungent or acrid. Certain charities. The reverse of cordial. In hunting: not strong; faint; weak. In sport, unwounded. Of the person chosen to seek or guess, in children's games: distant from the object sought.

The inside of the cold sore is mysterious. Though technically a blister, it is filled neither with water nor blood. What might appear if one wedged a tiny speculum in the cleft? What happens when the sore meets its qualifier?
A bath of black mud. The unfriendly condition of inflammation. The hardship of flourescent light. A lunch of storms. Stiff, valid roast. A plumed, malarial hawk. A horse like a weapon. A hare, running through the grounds, distant from the object sought.

Perhaps inside the sore are infinitely repeated iterations of itself, progressively smaller mountains with mouths of their own.

Soon the sore will add shades of white and mauve. By noon it will bulge into the mirror. A cold sore lasts for one or two weeks. This is a life span shorter than a mountain's but no less creepy.