How Much Pain Can We Hold? {poetry}


The turning of summer into fall, harvest time, elderberry time, hunting time.

I love this season, and for me, it’s also the season I escaped death — three years ago, a death of the spirit, and two years ago, death of the body. It may be years, it may be longer, before I enter this time without remembering pain so fierce that I finally thought maybe my appendix is bursting, I’d better go to the hospital just to see.

It turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy — a pregnancy implanted in my fallopian tube, that had burst and my pain was from internal bleeding. I lost a pint of blood.  When I came home, I was too weak to even lift a teakettle.

Equinox is coming, a time of equal light and dark.  This season, we hold the opposites. Those who did not show up and love me, and those who did. How betrayed I felt by my body, and how joyfully grateful to it. How scared and how freed. These poems explore these opposites. How much pain can we hold, how much beauty? More than we thought, more than we thought.


Hunting season.

I gather elderberries
by the river.
Last year, these purple-black fruits rotted
on my counter — I
was in the ER, clenched
with pain and cold
under ten blankets and by the time
they opened me
there was a liter of blood to take,
one slender branch
and the fertilized egg
that had split it open.
You came later,
after hours waiting
for diagnosis, refusing morphine
while the nurses rolled their eyes,
after Sarah called my parents, after
they lifted me onto the operating table
and I told myself don’t look, you’ll
wake up from this, you
walked in after I woke up.
Yes, you drove me home at three am
and slept beside me,
and I didn’t tell you
that when I lay on my side, I
could feel my insides slide into a hollow
that was not there before.
Yes, you cooked me soup
and stayed
that first day,
tell me
where you went after that
and never fully returned,
it was no mistake
when I met you and wrote
the teeth of the lion
on the throat of the deer, I knew you
from the start, if
you have forgotten
what we harvested, here
are the scars
that can be seen,
I will show you again
the path of the knife.



I. The Price

Later there will be a bill
in dollars
and cents
but here
in the operating room
we barter —

I give them
a pint
of blood,
flesh that might
have been a baby,
one fallopian tube

and they give  me
three scars and
my life.


5 am.  I wake to soft rain
and can’t sleep again —
my stomach throbbing,  the hospital band clamped
on my wrist.

I begin looking for the old poems — the ones I read
so many times I can say
their first lines these 15 years later.

The rain lets loose her hair outside.

I am alive — improbably —
and at least
I am going to read some poems.


That first morning,  there was blood —
expected —  but
the smell of birth I was not
prepared for, the smell
of blood just after
a baby is born,
I did not expect —

and then I understood, truly,
that a baby
had died,
caught in the tangle of my body, lost
before we knew it was there,

and in the iron dark
smell of birth,  there was
an ocean
of grief
beneath my skin,

I was immersed,

and I began
to weep.

IV.  Totem

Before that,
night, and a tent
with a roof spun of gauze,
the stars and Milky Way poured out
above us.
Talking in murmurs,
children sleeping on either side.

We rose and went out
to the edge, meadow
meeting forest,
each of us finding
a spot to pee, and behind me
the startled Whumph
of a large animal snorting.

Bear, I thought, and right away
you said, It’s not a bear,
but waved me back anyway
into the silvered
meadow. It’s a stag.
We couldn’t see him
behind the darkened trees;
we listened as he pawed
the ground and snorted,
slowly moving away on his unseen trail,
how did I not see
until now
you standing between us.


Adrie Rose writes and works with herbs in western MA. Her work has previously appeared in Plum, Peregrine, Albatross, The Essential Herbal, Poetry Breakfast, and Ibbetson Street Review. Her poem “In the Liminal” was awarded second place in the Robert P. Colleen Poetry Competition. She studied creative writing at Bennington College and the SC Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities.


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