Piece by Piece

She knows hell isn’t a place of suffering but a place where suffering is futile. At fifteen she’s long past […]

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She knows hell isn’t a place of suffering but a place where suffering is futile.

At fifteen she’s long past crying.

There are no salt tears left. She weeps rubies.

No horror in her blood a sacrifice but not a payment.

Points to her heart: See. There. That’s where I hurt. Nobody can see.

She can’t see.

But crimson over alabaster. Stigmata that she chooses.

Pieces of herself to stave off despair.

It quiets the animals stops extraneous thoughts brings focus to the there and then. She cleanses herself lets out the bad humors.

Jesus’ saved the world she’ll take getting past geometry.

Exact perfect beautiful steps a samurai ceremony a yakuza ritual:

cleaning the blade choosing the place the cool alcohol the comforting sting.

Watching the color smelling the iron tasting the comfort.

The Stones sang Let It Bleed.


And afterwards salve bandage so tender after the violence the only time she’d let herself care for herself mercy for the wounded girl.

Once she blotted with typing paper blood rorschach looking for meaning in the patterns searching for a sign what am I supposed to do oh god what am I going to do.

Every poem she writes is artery deep.

Navajo legends say the women put one mistake in each perfect blanket they weave so their pride wouldn’t capture them in their looms.

She just wants one word just one word to come out right.

She went too far once cut too deep skated the edge touched the void had to bail and stitch herself up with a courtesy sewing kit.

An ER intern admired the work and she proudly talked shop while her mother wept.

Grandma put her on the prayer chain now images of a pyramid scheme of blue-haired ladies sending out spiritual chain letters.

Tries to explain: she doesn’t want to die she wants to feel.

Not a mutilation but a coping skill tribal scars marks of survival.

A place of control.

When she was young when he used her she had no control.

Still a dead spot always a dead spot on her back where he would pin her down. Tries to explain: she doesn’t want to feel she wants to die.

Other girls in her class cut.

Ugly scrapes on their hands and arms scratching creeds into themselves but they’re only tourists posers who might as well carve help on their foreheads.

She’s an artist tortured self-made self-ruined she’d never degrade the ritual.

No disposable double-edged she uses a chrome folder a real blade the only mirror she’ll allow in her life.

Her wounds are high on her legs only a glimpse with her shortest skirts only a lover can see no free peeks you have to work to get to her most private spot.

A secret part of the ritual a mystery to watch their eyes when they see her scars.

Some sacrifices you are forced to make and some you choose to make.

Instinctively she knows that blood sacrifices are the only ones that matter.

Her calendar is measured on her flesh carved with a stylus of steel. It makes her feel important it makes her feel in control it makes her feel.

With each new day with each used day as she prepares herself for school she cranks it and oh no let’s go crazy with The Formerly Known As Artist:

‘Cuz in this life things are much harder than in the afterworld.

In this life you’re on your own.


Author’s comment

This poem on cutters came from the work I do speaking with teens from around the country. It’s as real and true as I could make it. I was able to draw from some incredibly candid conversations with cutters of all ages, especially one in particular, and before I sent it to you, I ran it past them for their comments and “blessings.” They said it was desperately accurate and captured the horror and seduction they felt when they were caught in this particular hell.

There are no solutions in this piece, no happy ending, and as much as the cutters try to find something romantic in their pain, it’s not pretty. It’s a snapshot of something that is becoming almost epidemic among teens and is rarely looked honestly at. It’s only within the last couple of years that the mental health professionals have really addressed this growing, disturbing problem. It’s a violent part of mental illness that is terrifying and terrible to look closely at.

Examining that reality in all its terrible truth is why I think it’s perfect for Access Press. The folks that resort to this kind of survival mechanism tell me that people either ignore their wounds, turn away in disgust, or want to know “why?” I’m hoping this poem/essay addresses just a bit of all of these.


Online Help is Available

Here are some Web sites teen cutters have suggested to me as good places to go for help:




  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!

You are not alone. Minnesota Autism Resource Portal.