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We commit little violences

against ourselves,


tallying up our misdeeds 

on a scroll of red stone. 


When we feel pleasure, 

it is an uneasy pleasure, 


and we do not let it pleasure us

for long. We play with pain, 


prodding its mouth until it snaps, 

and we cherish guilt, 


letting it hang

like hair over our faces.


Our dreams are dim 

and soundless. Our days


are long like moans.


We have each done wrong

to someone we love, 


someone who refuses

to punish us. 



cw: descriptions of autopsy, psychiatric medication


                      - Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea




The Specialists are looking at The Body.

They’ve placed The Body 

on a wooden table and sliced it open

with a big, ancient knife. The Body

is cold and tinged with blue. The Body 

smells tragic. The Specialists plunge 

their hands into The Body, searching for anything

unusual—perhaps a shard of glass, 

a wilting rose, a precarious cairn

of stones. But they find nothing 

except the usual oils and scum.

The Specialists almost give up until 

one last grope leads them to something 

snuggled behind the rib cage, 

something purply red and shiny as a shell.

It looks like a heart.

It’s almost where a heart should be.

When they squeeze it,

it leaks thick, green-black tar.

which they call Black Bile.

The Specialists place The Spleen in a jar,

watch it osmose its last secretions

into the briny fluid. It looks so limp

and sad. They promise to blame it 

for every sadness.





The Specialists are looking at The Brain.

They prod its greasy lobes

with their disposable-gloved fingers.

They trace its pink-gray wrinkles, 

its bit of stem, feeling for any holes.

They crack The Brain open

like an egg, and a dour yolk spills out. 

The Specialists drip The Yolk into a test tube

and perform their experiments:

boil it, siphon it, mix it 

with a liquid that smells 

dangerous to inhale. But alas, 

no fumes or sparks, 

no mad-scientist explosions.

The Yolk just bubbles slightly, 

then sits like soup. But wait—

there’s something gathered

at the bottom. The Specialists dip 

their forceps in the vial 

and extract gems of Dopamine, 

Serotonin, Norepinephrine.

The Specialists are awed

by their act of alchemy. 

They’re feeling pretty good

about themselves, and so they make

the bold declaration 

that these precious stones

are the ore of emotion

and sanity; an ore, they say, 

that’s being chipped away at

by some elusive Pickaxe.

They are now searching

for The Pickaxe.





The Specialists are looking at The Patient.

They listen to The Patient talk 

about childhood: the mother coddled, 

the siblings tormented, the father did something

unspeakable. The Specialists are experts

in Unspeakable. They ask The Patient

                 and how does that make you feel?

jotting the response on their big notepads

with their slender pens. The Specialists place

fabulously inscrutable ink blots 

in front of The Patient, nodding

when The Patient says

            a butterfly

            a frog.

The Specialists sway their watch fobs

in front of The Patient’s gaze

until The Patient falls asleep.

As The Patient dreams

transparent dreams, 

the Specialists skim their Notes, 

admiring the bullet points

as if they were answers.





The Patient—no, The Woman—is looking 

into the palm of her hand. In it, a pile

of pills: the chalky white hexagon

of Lamictal, the shiny, 

mustard-yellow capsule of Adderall XR.

And then there’s the little pink dot

of Propranolol, so oddly adorable.

Later in the afternoon, 

she’ll take another Propranolol, 

another Adderall. It’s been explained to her

how her body metabolizes medicine

quickly, though she’s not much interested

in the science of it. She’ll round out the evening

with two mud-brown ovals of Luvox 

and a tiny, seafoam rectangle of Abilify.

Between her myriad doses, she'll keep up 

her holistic regimen. She’ll get her daily soak 

of Vitamin D and participate in the vapid

but reassuring rituals of ‘Self Care.’

She’ll stretch and breathe and drink rooibos tea. 

If it’s Wednesday she’ll go see a Specialist

who fills her pocket with handy Skills:

Distress Tolerance, Wise Mind, 

Radical Acceptance. She’ll practice these skills

imperfectly, often feeling like a failure.

She’ll try to Radically Accept her failures, 

and fail at that as well. By night,

she’ll retire early, making sure

to allow for nine hours of rest, 

though she’ll never have good dreams.

Another Specialist told her there’s a medicine

that makes you forget your dreams, 

though The Woman can’t fathom how that works. 

She’s not much interested in the science of it. 

She’s never been concerned with anatomy charts, 

or cross sections of the brain. 

She’s too busy planning to make it through

the next impossible day.



cw: discussions of suicide, forceful hospital intake procedures


1. Nurse #1, a Hospital in Northern Virginia, April 2016


I’m sorry I threw my shoe at you. I was having a bad day.

It didn’t help that your tone was needle-sharp

and that you sided with my parents who thought, 


at least in the moment, 


I was crazy. I wasn’t really crazy, I just looked crazy

because I tried to open the car door 

while it was going forty miles per hour—


and because I threw my shoe at you.


It was a black slipper. I wore those slippers all the time

because I had too much going on to be bothered

with laces or straps. The shoe missed you,


so I guess I’m not as sorry as I would be if it hadn’t. 


You know, I never even got that slipper back?

Maybe that was your revenge. For consolation, 

my mother bought me a new pair, but I never wore them


enough for the wool soles to mold to the shape of my foot. 


2. Nurse Amy, East Springs Acute Inpatient Psychiatric, May 2016


Honestly, I was very nice to you, because you were nice to me. 

After my intake, when they made me change clothes—

into the plain cotton shirt, the pilling sweatpants, 


the gray underwear with a waistband three sizes too big—


you made a joke. I wish I could remember what it was, 

because I laughed. With your dishwater-blonde hair 

and tan skin, you had the look of someone at the beach—


wouldn’t it be nice if we were all just “at the beach,” 


the way some of us were “visiting family out-of-state” 

or “recovering from mono?” When I got period cramps

at two in the morning, I hated that the night-nurse came with Motrin


instead of you.


I guess if I’m sorry for anything, it would be that your were right

and I was wrong. I said something about how East Springs

must get busy during the holidays, but you responded,  


actually, most suicide attempts occur in spring.


I didn’t believe you, because spring is when tulips

and cherry blossoms grow. But after I was discharged, 

I looked it up online and, yes, the NIH says


most suicide attempts occur in spring.


3. Nurse #3, a Hospital in Rural Pennsylvania, October 2018


I’m sorry I called you a bitch. Or I guess “screamed” it

would be more accurate. I’m not usually that crazy, 

only sometimes. It’s just that you put me in a room 


with only a tarp mattress on the floor, 


then told me I had to change into a pair of hospital scrubs.

All of the sudden, I felt possessive of my pink and orange sweater, 

and when I refused to strip it off, you threatened,


or I can get someone to take it off for you


I guess it wasn’t exactly your decision—you said something

about protocol. So I guess I’m sorry about that, and sorry

that I kept staring into the camera in the ceiling corner,


hoping you were watching


and that it’d freak you out. But understand

that I was terrified, and tired. I refused to lay down

on the mattress because I thought that would be giving in.


So I curled up on the linoleum, pretending to dream good dreams. 


I’ll admit that when the doctor walked in and sat cross-legged 

on the floor, asking what he could do for me, I wished 

it was you instead. I needed someone with the balls to tell me 


I was embarrassing myself. 


So that’s that. Do you even remember me? Or do unhinged girls 

with blood-stained sleeves cuss you out so often it's hard to keep track? 

But if you do remember, do you wanna know how I’m doing? 


Listen, you might not believe me.


ANNIE PRZYPYSZNY is a poet from Washington, DC pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Maryland. She is an Assistant Editor for Grace and Gravity and has poems published or forthcoming in Broad River Review, Jet Fuel Review, Watershed Review, The Healing Muse, North Dakota Quarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, The Main Street Rag, SWWIM, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, SoFloPoJo, and others.

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