Thursday, February 03, 2005

What the Skin Cutter Feels

And now for something a little more serious . . .

Some people, because of past trauma or abuse, turn to cutting on themselves. The wounds are usually superficial, not life-threatening, and are made with razor blades, pins, knives, glass, jagged metal edges, upon the arms, legs, or thighs. The motivations for this self-harm are many and often conflicting. It is common for the cutter to report a sense of overwhelming compulsion.

What the Skin Cutter Feels

Nothing but numb, the world’s
pitch and yaw groaning inside her,
tense as an edge, a strange
smell liked singed wires
everywhere, this deafening
silence, her mind a hive.

She reaches for a clean towel,
caresses the gleaming razor
between fingertips, imagines
the blade gliding over her cheek,
the hairless expanse of a wrist.

How she wishes this
inside wound were
outside — where
she could feel it,
watch it heal.

An urge that won’t go away
until she lets it out —
a trickle of blood marking
her stunned flesh, as if to say: this
is where the world ends.


jenni said...

I knew a cutter once. That's some weird shit. Real sweet girl too. She said it gave her a 'high.' It scared me. I tried your sestina, but failed, miserably. Thanks for the prompt though. The failing was fun.


Anne said...

The last two lines of this gave me the shivers.

I have a dear friend who has cut herself in the (fairly recent) past, and we've talked about it some. I still don't quite understand it, but your third stanza sounds a lot like what she has said about it.

barbara jane said...

hi peter, yes now i see what you mean about how your work finds its way into your poems. yr last 2 stanzas just gives me the chills.

also, i'm afraid of your villanelle prompt scares me. i guess i should get over it and do it :-)

thanks for sharing, barbara

Peter said...

Thanks Anne, Barbara, Jenni:
I am so glad the poem seems like an accurate rendering of the mind/soul of a person who cuts. I have several patients with this problem, and it is perplexing, fascinating, and troubling, to me.

Jennifer said...

Tough subject. I tackled it last year (in a sonnet, of all things), in reference to a good friend of mine who has cut in the past. I remember visiting him in Fairfax; the wood hyacinths were blooming. I saw his wrists and ankles and asked "why on earth?" He said it took the pain away. Since he checked himself in as an absolute last defense against suicide, I didn't feel like I was in a position to argue with this ... when you're in that place, I guess whatever keeps you breathing is worth it ... but it's very sad.

Your first stanza strikes me as a dead-on description of depression.

Anne said...

You said "I am so glad the poem seems like an accurate rendering of the mind/soul of a person who cuts."

I think that's why the last lines resonate so much with me. My friend who is/was a cutter has said that much of it is about control, about choosing a pain that you can control and that has a known & visible source in order to distract you from a more troubling pain over which you feel quite helpless. It is, just as your poem says, about violently reclaiming the boundaries between your *self* and the frightening world.

At least, that's what I understand of it. And that's what makes it hard when it's someone you love (and who, in the case of my friend, was far away -- so I couldn't rush over and take the knives away): there is a healing component to it, and to ask the cutter not to cut means asking them to relinquish one of the few things they feel in control of. It's complicated and troubling. And it's easy to stand in judgment of it, but really, it's not *that* different from a marathon runner who welcomes the physical pain of pushing the body to that kind of extreme -- and I wonder if cutting doesn't provide a similar endorphin "buzz" as well?

Peter said...

It's less common for men to be cutters, but not unheard of. I'd love to see your sonnet. Hope your friend is OK now; getting the support he needs.

I think you are dead on: it's about claiming the border between self and the world. Why take that away from a person? (At least without giving them something to do in its place.) ANd yes, I think people get a natural high off the rush of it, the ritual of it, which is a way of self-medicating, of feeling better, for a moment, at least.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for wishing good things for my friend; he needs it. After agonizing years of a hospitalizations, a laundry list of meds, and what passes for ECT these days (I got to chauffeur him for that), he finally got diagnosed and medicated for bi-polar. And feels so great that he's discontinued his meds (as I understand happens frequently) and won't hear anything said to the contrary. So his wife and friends are waiting for the axe to fall; what else can we do?

Thanks for listening; I'll post the poem.

32poems said...

I knew a person who cut themselves. It's a sad story, and I think she still does it. Thanks for sharing the poem, though it left me feeling sad.

barbara jane said...

hi again peter! poet/teacher nick carbo just posted this "visual poem" on his blog, and it made me think of this skin cutter poem:

peace, barbara

Peter said...

Thanks for the link Barbara.
What an interesting piece of art. At first I thought of "Nick" as a man's name. But then the idea of the razor blades takes it to a very different place/connotation.
And I think I can see someone's face refecting back on the surface of the bottle in the photo. Very eerie. Do you see it too?

Anonymous said...

I'm a new cutter. It's the only validation of my pain.

Anonymous said...

i've been a cutter ever since i cold hold something sharp. it's a pretty accurate description. the first and last stanza made me feel not as alone. thank you for posting~gina

Anonymous said...


i have cut almost every day for six years and nothing i have ever read has summed up how i feel on a daily basis better than that has.

you're a good writer and you definitly have the words inside you to help others. not many people who don't cut themselves can see the world that those who do live in, and those who do can't often express they're own feelings in words.

thankyou for understanding us. and thankyou for such a beautiful and expressive, powerful poem.