What Pain Does by Megan D. Henson


Photography by J. Michael Skaggs

Henson’s transcendent poems not only intensely share her own intimate – subjective experiences with the reader but they invite and ask us to explore our own deep perceptions as we journey with her. She asks us to find our own interpretation while at the same time exquisitely expressing and narrating her own story. At the end of the experience we not only know the author well but feel a freedom in having found innovative ideas and directions for our own soul. Our feelings discover an inner self while at the same time experiencing with Henson. We are on two journeys – one with Megan and one with our self…sometimes parallel often divergent – but both richly rewarding.

The meditative photographs by Michael Skaggs extend our reflection and not only bring added facets to Henson’s poetry but offer individual additional generous paths for us to explore.

The combined work of these two artists offer us a deeply insightful and reflective experience. This is a gifted collaboration well worth meaningful consideration.
David Thomson


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 72
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: August 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-948017-17-6


What Pain Does, a collaboration between poet Megan Henson and her photographer husband J. Michael Skaggs, begins in the pain management clinic with the collective pronoun, “we.” There is a generosity throughout this book. Its intimate portrayal of one woman’s struggle to live and write herself toward a wholeness that integrates without glorifying intractable physical and emotional pain is specific and personal yet large enough to let us all inside the poet’s singular vision. “I am a story; these are my markings,/ my alphabet,” Megan Henson writes. “I tell you who I am,/ and I will not be interrupted”. Skaggs’ photography, too, is intent upon removing the barrier between the viewer and the viewed, allowing nerve and vein to pulse up through portraiture’s skin, offering a visceral experience of what pain does. —Pauletta Hansel

Poet Megan D. Henson takes readers on a personal and universal odyssey from despair, numbness and near death to examination, awareness and acceptance. Attended by photographer and husband, J. Michael Skaggs, the couple hauntingly renders deeply layered suffering. If you know pain, this is your story. If you don’t, you will soon understand.

What Pain Does embarks on a path of brokenness and violence in the clinic alongside opiate addicts, mistreatment by health-care and insurance systems and the poet’s own flatness, precipitated by violation.

Thematically, shadow shows up full force in the poem Black: “Left behind is a fading red memory of the thing that came before.” Then guilt: “What could I have done to be punished so thoroughly by a being nobody sees.” Wisdom surfaces as Henson discovers her truth by observing nature, opining: “And so, I must own my pain because they say it’s not real” in the fairytale Salt of Sin.

Freeing her wounded inner child and reclaiming her power, Henson roars: “I tell you who I am, and I will not be interrupted … I am the woman they fear— the huntress in the night.”

Henson – whom you won’t soon forget – is a heroine worth accompanying.
Cathy Barney


The Simple Wisdom of Pain

I have spent a decade in pain longing
for a genie in the bottle of my body
to reveal the wisdom of my illness.

I must’ve gained something in return for my losses.

Eventually everyone gives up,
realizing their naiveté.
Ask Alphonse Daudet in the throw of syphilis.
But he sinned. And he was punished.

Tell me, how have I sinned? What
could I have done to be punished so thoroughly,
ravished so thoroughly by a being nobody sees.
Can you catch syphilis from a ghost?

I have spent a decade rubbing
myself raw, waiting
for a genie a genie a genie…

The Simple Wisdom of Pain Excerpt

Photo by J. Michael Skaggs


Megan D. HensonMEGAN D. HENSON’s work has been published in Gravel and Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing. She was the recipient of an Eric D. Meyer Poetry Scholarship. She and her husband, J. Michael Skaggs, have exhibited What Pain Does at Prairie Gallery and presented it at the Kentucky Communication Association Conference. They exhibited their collection Invisible Woman at Harriet Beecher Stowe House and presented it to the Cincinnati Opera Board of Directors. Megan received her MFA in Creative Writing from University of Kentucky. She has taught fiction and poetry at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She lives in Cincinnati and teaches at Northern Kentucky University.


J. Michael SkaggsJ. MICHAEL SKAGGS’s award winning photography has been published in The State of America, Black and White Magazine, B&W+COLOR Magazine, Licking River Review and True NKU. He is the author of Americans Revisited Volume I (Edgecliff Press, 2008). He has exhibited In New York City, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont and Indiana. Michael received his M.A. in Speech Communication from Montclair State University. He has taught Public Speaking, Photojournalism and other communication courses at Northern Kentucky University since 2000.

Additional information

Weight 7 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in