I awoke to darkness, unsure if I had risen too early
or too late, blinked your blurry outline into resolved silhouette,
phosphorescent in the glow of your computer screen. I stared,
slack-jawed at your blood-smeared legs, deep slashes
like rungs climbing from ankle to knee. When I gasped,
you turned and asked me to take away your razors. Not
the electric one used to shave your legs, but the little ones
used for sharpening sticks of charcoal, and the big ones for
cutting canvas. Made me promise not to give them back
no matter how much you begged or how expensive it became
for you to keep replacing them. After you left for class
the next morning, I ransacked our dorm room. I went through
your desk drawers, sorted sketches, gesture drawings,
notes from your Art History class, books about Frida Kahlo
and Mary Cassatt so thick and heavy our flimsy, particle board
bookshelves couldn’t hold them. I raided your closet, checking
seams and pockets, the insides of your shoes. I looked
under your mattress, inside your pillowcase. I collected
utility knives, box cutters, scrapers, snap-off blades, X-Acto
knives, and scissors. I even took packs of paperclips and staples,
knowing you could make do with anything sharp in a pinch.
Flashes of your flesh played behind my eyes, new wounds traced
over old scars, thick and white, like strokes of chalk on the sidewalk
of your thighs. Wished I could ascend that ladder, climb
into your head so I could understand why you do this. Why all those
art prizes and scholarships weren’t enough to convince you
of your worth. Why you couldn’t excise that spectral pain
no matter how many bruised daughters and belt-wielding mothers
you painted. Why you couldn’t stop your own hands the way
you wish you could’ve stopped hers. I hid it all
in my bottom desk drawer, home to all the text books I planned
on selling back at the end of the year, shielded the hoard behind
volumes 1 & 2 of The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
Once a week, I picked through our room and added to the pile.
It grew so tall, blades erupted over the covers. I had to wedge
my French-to-English dictionary on top to keep everything hidden.
You never asked me where all your art and office supplies went.
You knew I’d slash my own wrists before I let you down.
As the old cuts healed, no new ones appeared. I began
tossing our room every other week, then once a month,
then never again. Months later, I uncovered the hoard
of blades sitting in my desk like a grotesque piece
of installation art. I wondered if I should return them, imagined
what your legs, breasts, wrists might look like if I gave them back.
Wondered if I would have to go shopping for a new
black dress. Flipping through my copy of Poets of the New
Century, assessing the value of a book with such heavily
marked margins, I saw a poem with an epitaph that read, “If the
instrument of your beloved’s suicide is within your reach,
get rid of it.” I pulled the drawer out of my desk, upended it,
anthologies and all, into the trash.
Carla Criscuolo is the author of Pedestrian Traffic (Finishing Line, 2015). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Main Street Rag, Boston Literary Magazine, Chantarelle’s Notebook, Stepping Stones Magazine, and Amarillo Bay. On Twitter, people call her @PoeticCarla.