Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Pain You Feel Really Is the Worst

The Pain You Feel Really Is the Worst

This whole time
something has been wrong
with you. How have your shoulders
managed like this. What did you do,
train at lugging buckets of water
up a mountain all day. You look like
Swiss cheese inside, there are
polka dots of absence all over you,
within you. We call this doily soul,
we call this a case of the paper
snowflakes. The thing you feel,
that’s pain. How long have you
been hurting for. Do you remember
where you were when it started,
and where you were when you
were able to forget it. Brave,
is what you are, and with all
of this still in front of you, who
knows what you’ll lose next,
everything, I guess. You deserve
unending ice cream sundaes,
a ribbon the size of a lion’s head.
What I’ve learned from looking
at you is you are a wonder.


  1. there are
    polka dots of absence all over you,

    What a line! Love it.

    Always good to read you work, Hannah. Thank you.

  2. "doily soul" :-)

    we all lose everything in the end, and we re always at the end, we began at the end ...

    but it feels like a continual process, doesn't it? each thing lost, a little rounded mouth of woe opening in the skin ...

    a good poem, hannah, an important poem ...


  3. I'd cut this, which sounds almost sarcastic to me:

    You deserve
    unending ice cream sundaes,
    a ribbon the size of a lion’s head.

    I think it trivializes the other person's pain and the empathy the speaker was feeling. (Or is she sarcastic throughout? I hope not). I was taking her empathy seriously, at face value, as she tried to visualize and thus experience the other's fatigue and pain, and I was liking the poem for doing that. At both ends of giving and receiving empathy, we could use more.

    I've been driving on Oho's country roads, stopping at Mom & Pops. Sometimes my back and butt are sore, but I bet not as much as other backs I see. I see gorgeous contour-plowed and planted fields and pastures full of cattle, and I think how hard somebody is working to sustain all that and how easy I've had it by comparison. Then I think, "That kind of isolation and working with machines, animals and plants--that way bigotry lies. How is that farmer supposed to empathize with an urban person of color?" Most likely, some do, some don't. And everybody has a sore back.

  4. I enjoy this poem, Hannah, for its personal significance, and the empathetic tone. (My bones are like swiss cheese, I have recently learned, though my soul, whatever it may be, feels unaffected.)

    "This whole time something has been wrong with you." I love this opening and it expresses the shock a person feels to know their body has been in betrayal before they knew.

    I also enjoy that this poem can apply to psychological pain as well as physical pain, giving it universality.

    I also enjoy this line: "We call this the case of the paper snowflakes." You've found ways to attach images to the feeling that something specific has gone awry.

    In regards to the empathetic statement of deserving ice cream sundaes, it may just be that the image could be tweaked. I am not sure, as the reader, what "a ribbon the size of a lion's head" is intended to mean. I like that the speaker of the poem offers a comfort item, but it could be something other than food, or the assignment and recognition of bravery could be enough. (I think a person experiencing pain does not often consider themselves to be brave, but a person witnessing another person's pain can see the strengths more than the weaknesses, and it's good to have that strength acknowledged.) On the other hand, offering unending ice cream sundaes is a great image, and it personalizes the speaker's empathy.

    This is another one of your poems asking questions without the use of a question mark. I love that. The speaker of the poem is so natural in cadence that question marks are not needed. There are so many lines in this poem that resonate. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Thanks for these comments, Drew, James, John, and Annie.

    Just wanted to share a poem from Annie's site, on a similar topic (I really enjoyed it):


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