The Discovery of Pain
by Penelope Scambly Schott

I watch like a movie: nothing is true:
Not my new two-piece bathing suit
not my pre-teen breast nubs

not my mother in her big straw hat
just a room with chicken wire windows
a bare room with a green filing cabinet

a coast guard officer in uniform
He opens his filing cabinet and takes out
a Libbey juice glass and an oval bottle

He pulls the stopper and fills up the glass
Drink, says the man in his uniform
Drink, says my father in plaid swim trunks

I lift my tight, red, swollen right arm
aflame from the jellyfish sting
and tip all the brandy down my throat

Outside, children still run on the beach
I hear only the biggest waves growl
A storm petrel smashes into the window

That’s when I heard the bird screaming

IMAGE: “Underwater hazards” (

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In this poem my process was simply to let myself remember and then write down the still-vivid details.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penelope Scambly Schott’s most recent collection is How I Became an Historian. She lives in Portland and Dufur, Oregon, but the jellyfish sting happened in Puerto Rico when she was about 11.

AUTHOR PHOTO: Above the Columbia River in Mosier, Oregon (May 21, 2016).