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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Self-Portrait as Half of a Two-Volume Dictionary

By: Liz Wager

It knows what sedulousness means, as well 

as sense and sound; it knows the subtleties between

taciturn and silent, satisfy and please

Between its palms of paperboard and olive-

colored linen, it holds the world from O! 

to zyzzyva, its definitions pressed like violets,

which it knows, or daisies, which it doesn’t.

It understands synecdoche, can spell

vicissitude and rhythm, and knows how scared

is not the same as sacred, or as scarred.

The empty space beside it on the shelf 

suggests that something’s wrong, although it’s not

quite sure—it can’t tell if it’s incomplete,

or how to know alone from loneliness.

It doesn’t know what to be called, the D

of dictionary out of reach, no I

to start identity. It mostly doesn’t

mind: it still has thought and petrichor

and rhapsody and yes and plenty. Besides, 

it cannot feel the loss of what it’s never 

had, of what it couldn’t possibly define.


Liz Wager is a graduate of the MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University. She currently lives and works in Rochester NY, where she writes poetry on her lunch breaks, watches British mysteries on Sundays, and takes great pride in her collection of houseplants. Her work has appeared in Yellow Chair Review, The Rectangle, and Able Muse.

"Having written this poem over a year ago, I still haven't decided if it's supposed to be depressing or not. I guess that's probably the point, though; most things we realize about ourselves can't be singularly categorized. That being said, I think this was a tremendously important poem for me to write, and I hope it speaks to others out there as well. We are what we are, and we have what we have, and I choose to focus on the positives of that. I love writing 'A Portrait of X as Y' poems - they provide so much freedom in exploring people we know in a way that allows the metaphor to do a lot of the heavy lifting, without the poem feeling overly confessional or sentimental (my nightmare!). By focusing on concrete images and descriptions, one can let the reader take the lead in interpreting the "portrait" created, which is both a freeing and an exacting literary technique. I've written portraits of people as grocery stores, trees, apples, drinking fountains, and door knobs - each one has led me to a new and better understanding of the subject, just by illustrating them through this unusual lens. I also love this particular poem because it allowed me to use some absolutely *cracking* vocabulary."


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