Listen to Melissa Frederick read “The Questions.”


What is pain but a question
and an answer?
I ask, do you hurt?
You tell me,

the days and nights smear
together in a wet clump.
Time decomposes
to cause and effect:

if morning → wash
if lunchtime →chew
if seated → rise

and beneath every action
a murmur of distress,
a pang,
a trouble,
a scream,

a secret, relentless algorithm
punishing nothing,
broken at random.

You ask me, why is there pain
that blooms under the skin
and never goes to seed?
I tell you, we carry pain

like bacteria. Pain dives deep
in our synapses
to learn to speak.
It shivers like a drumhead
beaten by metal mallets.

Take it out for dinner and dancing
and it might answer you
with a docile shrug.



Melissa Frederick has been working at writing for the past 40 years, through motherhood, chronic illness(es), and societal insanity. She earned Master’s degrees from Temple University and Iowa State University. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous publications, including Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Mid-American Review, Heron Tree, Moon City Review, Muse/A Journal, and Oxford Poetry. Her poetry chapbook, She, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008, and in 2017 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Follow her on Twitter at @msficklereader.