Features, Poems

Catherine Wing: “Self-Medication”

I hate New Year’s Day. There’s something dull and numb about it—beyond the hangover—that never fails to feel disheartening. Some years ago, when I was still lucky enough to be living in Seattle, my writing group proposed to meet on New Year’s Day as an antidote to the annual drear. Even if we had no new work to share we would at least write something and fend off the prevailing sense of the wasted day. So on January 1, 2008, we were somewhere in our pre-writing preamble when my good friend Ariana mentioned that she had decided not to drink for a while. Now, Ariana is no heavy drinker, quite far from it, and she went on to explain that she was doing so to remind herself where her edges were—because alcohol, it seemed to her, is a kind of situational softener, and she wanted to be reminded of her sharper aspects. By which she meant her more difficult—edgier—self. The poem “Self-Medication” was born entirely from this idea. What are we at our edges and what do all our self-medicating practices actually accomplish? Somewhere along the way—by stanza two—I became interested in shearing words of their edges to discover what other words might be found. Hence acute becomes cut, there’s a harp in sharpen, and to be smooth is (somehow) moot. If the poem can be said to resolve itself, it does so in a way characteristic of my New Year’s Day mood, which is to say if you’re dull you’re dull, from circumference to core, and next time perhaps I should write a shorter poem. (Catherine Wing)

 Self-Medication

When the edge
+++is sheered its urge,
what do we lose—
+++outward veer? inward nerve?

Does the acute angle
+++when cut away
yield an angel?
+++And of what use, obtuse?

When the angle’s right
+++the rig’s exposed,
but other-angles-wise
+++the verb becomes verbose.

So often what I want
+++is to soften
all my barbs and elbows,
+++to shave my harp from sharpen,

to sand my corners
+++down, and/or
pull my oars in before I sail
+++the coarser noun,

which is the opposite
+++of smooth, which
shorn makes moot,
+++a pointless route.

Is the error
+++in the margin?
Are we ringing
+++at the fringe?

Or need we whittle down
+++the whetstone,
to wit? to what?
+++to something we call bone.

Dull is dull, sir,
+++in the bowels or at the brink,
and so I’ll file my verges,
+++with longer vowels but less ink.


Catherine Wing grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, on a street bounded by two florists, one cemetery, and a Carnegie Library. Her debut collection, Enter Invisible, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry, The Nation, and The New Republic, as well as featured on “The Writer’s Almanac,” and included in Best American Erotic Poems, and Best American Poetry 2010. She lives in Ohio, where she teaches poetry at Kent State University and serves on the board of the Wick Poetry Center.  Her new collection, Gin & Bleach, is out now from Sarabande.

Additional work appears in the Spring & Summer 2012 issue of Poetry Northwest (v7.n1).