Unpublishable: Better Living Through Chemistry

Jenn McCreary



There is an ageless collective concept, in history & medicine, in religion & other fairy tales, that knowing the name of a thing gives one power over it. So you begin by grasping at nomenclature. You catalog the uncontrollable weeping, the cold-sweat racing-heart night-waking, the hyperventilated swooning, the progressive social withdrawal. More discreetly, to yourself, you take note of the constant scrabble of claws caged inside your ribs, the prickle of too-tight skins petitioning to be cut to release pressure, the relentless ache of scapulae struggling to unfold & realize their true purpose, bastard alulae no more.

You gather these findings & present them to those more neatly pressed than you currently are, & there is discussion of biochemical factors coupled with acknowledgment of authentic environmental influences: financial insecurity, political climate, ecological collapse, late stage capitalism, ghosting friends, hovering children, each day’s reveal of the latest sexual predator. You are rewarded, given names by the mouthful: severe major depressive episode; generalized anxiety disorder; panic disorder with agoraphobia.

You roll these names around in your mouth press at them with your tongue, chew on them tentatively, & think, it has been named like Rumpelstiltskin, & anticipate the promised power, to be spun back into gold.

While you wait for the spell to break, for your pieces to knit back together, you are given another list, a prescribed list of things to put in your mouth, varicolored & multi-shaped things which fill amber plastic bottles & stand in rows like sentinels on your nightstand. You swallow dutifully, or dissolve under tongue, look them up on your phone, skim side effects, contraindications, interactions, timing of efficacy. & while you do, you begin to also see old photos of women, women out of time, reflecting back at you your symptoms, your life, your lives a series of symptoms mirrored back & listed from vintage glossy pages, & while you see yourself in the women, the words there are not theirs, they are about & for, & so you pick up a brush & begin to reassemble the vernacular, you endeavor to paint the proper words into their mouths.

This autumn, I lost my poet voice, then began to find it again, creating erasure poems from vintage psychopharmaceutical ads aimed at other women gone quiet.