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ARS POETICA

 

She unfolds a bent staple the way
someone unwraps a creased handkerchief,
smoothing the edges open. Without
a mirror, she cuts into her face. The staple
scrapes from forehead into the crease

of her mouth. Deep red kisses
well along the ragged scratch, a farewell
to her obsession. Someone removes
the cap from a cheap pen, saws her left wrist
until it separates, bleeding. She spends

an entire night sitting in the hallway
outside my room. At midnight I crouch
beside her, whisper come back, come
back.
 A pillow's untouched and someone's
left her a small stuffed dog. The famous

psychiatrist who runs this place challenges
me to write a poem, his face blooming
via video conference call all the way 
from Dallas. It can be, he says,
about nothing. I'm already dead.

He tries to stump me with quotations
from Blake and Eliot. Buddy I want 
to tell him, I'm medicated off my ass.
Last count ten different pills, but I don't
self-harm, so the staff opens a little office

and I'm left alone. Nearly three hours later,
I have a couple of lines. I wrap myself
in a blue hospital blanket, head to the dayroom
where everyone's watching TV. Someone
turns the volume down. Did you write

a poem?
 They want to hear it, my suicide
poem, but why tell them what they've 
already lived? On the third evening here
my roommate unthreaded the string
from her sweatshirt's hood, wrapped it tight

around her neck. Not a hanging, exactly,
more like strangulation. It took two nurses
to unwind her. She was sent to another ward
of the hospital, dressed in a paper gown
and a paper blanket to keep her safe. And me,

left alone to write a poem after weeks 
of observation? I sit in an office chair
and try to work, don't even check the clock.
Maybe I miss the mandatory fifteen minute
check-ins, click of the flashlight 

in my face, fists banging on a closed
bathroom door, always someone
with a clipboard and careful little notes:
Patient in the unused office for two hours
and forty-five minutes. She did not

self-harm. 
How odd to suddenly
be unwatched. When I read the poem
to my therapist she sits for a minute,
says somehow I thought
it would be much longer.



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