my psychotherapy teacher taught me to counsel
with his fingernails
to heal women in distress,
making first visits to trauma clinics,
by leaving space for them
to share as much—or little—of painful subjects
as they chose
by making statements instead of asking questions.
no demands, like
"We've just met—tell me your secrets."
no interrogations, like
"Do you hurt so much you can't breathe?"
instead, I think aloud to myself,
as if I barely notice you in the room
"I wonder what it would be like to live through that."
a sentence, not a question mark,
voice not rising, ending soft and low
then inspecting my own fingernails:
palm up, fingers curled, as if considering a manicure;
a deliberate inattention,
staring at my nails as if they were
the most interesting thing in the world;
giving space for a woman with wounds
to unwrap them, carefully,
without accidentally being touched.
fingernails—one aspect of a general posture:
self-contained and safe, lower case,
never approaching, always reeling in,
letting her come to you.
we started in his office.
he let me watch him, and he watched me—
but only when he thought I was ready
(that, I believe, because I need to)
but we all have unconscious wishes,
and we all have tells
our tells can be funny—
every time he lectured me that
"clients have unconscious wishes,"
within the next twenty-four hours
he would offer to take my coat
or brush my hair from my neck
or some other small, inappropriate thing
learning by doing is treacherous.
teacher and student are not therapist and client;
there are not enough walls.
when he was finished with me,
there was another meeting, in another office,
and another statement instead of a question.
"I've taught with him, he's a good guy—maybe you misunderstood."
at the meeting, a lawyer sat beside me,
picking at the beds of her nails,
her eyes misting the lenses of her spectacles at difficult moments,
hoping for my silence.
she'd warned, "It will be worse if you talk."
(yet, here I am)
afterward, we sat outside, on a city bench,
its wood warmed by sunshine, in my hometown,
all the scenery looking changed.
when I looked down, I noticed her fists.
from her picked nails, blood ran down her fingers.
still, sometimes, I think of fingernails
clawing at my back
clawing at my soul