Lia Greenwell


A scale of pain and one side is heavier. I keep apologizing for the gentleness with which I came in to the world, and in which I’ve been left. Could my own ache stitch closed a girl’s perforations, remake her memory? I believe in objectivity. I doubt the transitive properties of pain. But no one is spared, and the scale changes, and the point of pain in your life rises to a certain height no matter your father’s voice or shelling at night. Writing this I try to believe it, but it rings false. And yet my friend, handled ungently, says, You cannot compare pain, to which I say, I try.


A test of my compassion: I offer the man panhandling on the subway a loaf of bread, but he says he doesn’t like bread. Everyone snickers, their points proven. Under the scaffolding on my block, I always look at the blanket with two people under it. People who, when I see their eyes (cloudy, urgent, impenetrable), don’t seem like people anymore. That is the score of my compassion. I do not look away, but I also won’t walk on that side of the street at night, where I once saw the man trance-like with his pants at his knees. I look at them and plead their cases—prosecution and defense. Sometimes I think it’s because of what happened to you and other times no matter what happened to you.
​As a girl I was a bell
unstruck,a perfect vessel
for sound.Beauty came for me–
opened my hips

like a tulip, flared
my cheekbones out

like the swollen middle
of a boat.

The sound made
my head buzz,

my pulse
stammer. As a girl

I was
an empty bell.

I never asked
to make sound.

Lia Greenwell is a poet living in Detroit, Michigan. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Witness, Poetry East, and Poecology among other publications. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and has received scholarships from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Lia has taught creative writing to high school and college students through the Girls Write Now program in New York City and as the 2015 Joan Beebe Teaching Fellow at Warren Wilson College. You may visit her website at: