The difference between habitually
cutting your wrist with a razor
kept in your breast pocket and opening
your chest with broken glass—is it a matter
of impulse control or audience
or both? Which do we admire most?
If you're going to burn yourself as punishment
for eating, I say make sure your mother knows.
I knew a dominatrix who said, as a kid,
what couldn't be said by ripping out her
eyelashes. They're featuring girls who cut themselves in
the New York Times Magazine, yet you're still purging
secretly after meals. Imagine: someone
intentionally puking on the table—just once.
Please don't be angry with
out me. I have so longed
and farewelled too many times
to trust your good intentions. No
offense, love, I would fall
head over ass into this disaster
but I just don't fit. You're wanting
something to hold now, an image
no doubt: here's my breast. You
suck. Why are you still here? Tell me
what I did to deserve this.
I'll do it again
I'm given an image: a specific
six o'clock light spills
through Venetian blinds onto a tray—
black enamel with gold inlay—
which rests on a trunk. I see it
from the floor, through the eyes of someone
who can't get up—someone ill or dead
or killed—until I discover the tray's face
isn't visible from this angle and move
to the closet. I'm a child, hunched in the corner,
through the cracked door the afternoon light
crawl into the darkening parlor and die. It's quiet
here. In other rooms a radio blares
big band music, children clamor
up wooden stairs, Mother is cooking
meat and absently humming and someone is calling
my name. I smell galoshes and tweed. The thrum
and swoosh of rain-drenched traffic lulls me
into a sleep from which they'll rouse me
long after dark.
Now, she says, shall we try again? We empty
our minds (or so we pretend), wait five minutes
and she says to write the names of three concrete
objects. I write the names of my husband
and our dogs. Now sit with those words, she says, and see
what they become. They become our house, actual
and messy as ever, then the symbol "home," and then
the emblem "river"—faraway and blue—and I watch
not move for several minutes. Then it starts flowing
through the house, flooding it. Suddenly it evaporates,
my husband sitting at his desk in the dark. I see him
from the back, as if through a camera lens. I sense
danger. I think when he turns to face me or is turned
he'll be monstrous or murdered. I went into the closet
to evade this.
We're tired but agree again to practice
inviting images into our fit minds, this time
without guidance. I fix on a newspaper photograph
from 1976, captioned The Richard Clewett family
fights the high cost of living by baking bread.
Dad's beard is full. He kneads.
Mom's hair is long. She holds me
or my twin in her arms.
One of us points jubilantly at the dough.
What the camera doesn't show: my father only cooked
in the seventies, my mother only till her children left
home; as a child I loved to hide in the closet; I will write
love letters to replace those lost in the flood (especially
if he is dead); my mother would hide under a bush;
my father will stop writing poems; who has been
or will be suicidal. All poems are love letters.
on MEDITATION...: I don't actually advocate
punishing oneself for eating, or any other activity described here, although
people I've known have expressed themselves in these ways and in general
I believe it's better to express oneself than not.
on DEAR: I was just goofing around, really,
and liked the result.
on FLOOD: This grew from a series of
exercises led by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall at the 1989 (?) University of Kentucky
Women Writers Conference.