Posted by: cousinbrandon | June 18, 2010

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

In 10th grade, at the age of 15, I was diagnosed as anorexic. Anorexia Nervosa, to be exact. I never knew why, really. It was explained to me as a control thing. That is, when the things around us are in a complete state of entropy, our own bodies are the one thing we have full control over. Being a 15-year-old anorexic male in 1990 was, well, uncommon. Nowadays I talk to more and more people who it turns out had (or have) an eating disorder of some sort. What’s more, I can usually pick them out via conversation without them ever alluding to it. You just know. It’s like we’re part of some weird club. And, no, it’s not just a weight thing. Yes, you can look at someone’s skeletal frame and do the math, but in many cases it’s not at all telling from the outside. It’s a mental thing, really. It’s their approach to food. It’s how they eat, how they are meticulous about certain things. For me, being anorexic in 10th grade meant going to the nurse’s office once a day during my Chemistry class so she could visibly watch me eat a snack. It was humiliating. In fact, that summer it got so bad that my parents threatened to institutionalize me, driving me to a hospital in Baltimore where we toured the facility. After that, I ate. I promised to gain weight. Anything so as not to end up there. And I did. And they didn’t. And so ended my bout with anorexia. Kind of.

At 15, my parents had already been divorced for 5 years, so it wasn’t that. Honestly, even 20 years removed from it, I still can’t tell you what “it” was. I can’t point to any single thing and say, “Yeah, that’s why I did it.” And the worst part? I’m still Anorexic. Not literally, not completely. What I mean is that I still have an obsession with food and body image. I don’t think we ever see ourselves the way others do. There is always a part of me that thinks about what I’m eating, how I look, my weight, etc. It just doesn’t go away. On the upside, I’m healthier now. No, I don’t mean I eat nothing but wheatgrass and rolled oats. I mean that my weight is normal. I don’t get down on myself the way I once did. I don’t look to suppress my appetite with coffee. I don’t subsist on only bagels and ice cream. Am I still uncomfortable talking about it? Absolutely. For the longest time, I was outright ashamed of myself, completely embarrassed to broach the subject. It was my scarlet letter, of sorts. Now, because I’m “better,” it’s much easier to discuss. Hell, the way things have gone over the course of the past few years, what’s there to be ashamed of? I no longer have the fear of my own body turning on me due to my neuroses; I’ll let the diabetes do that. (And, yes, that was meant to be funny. If I didn’t laugh at this shit, I’d have checked out long ago.)

“Too Thin” is a poem I wrote during my first semester of graduate school at Emerson. I was inspired to write it after reading one of Louise Glück’s books on the process of writing, as assigned to me by the great Jonathan Aaron, who is not only a genius but an amazing poet himself. Thanks for indulging me.

Too Thin

Its intent is to construct . . . a plausible self. . . . By the time I was sixteen, . . . I realized that I had no control over this behavior at all.
– Louise Glück, from Proofs and Theories, on her struggle with anorexia

How do I speak about a thing
whose name I can’t even
bring myself to say?
How do I pretend
to want to? These are the days
of fattening up
on lies. Breathing is a chore.
The slack-weight off my belly
is uncomfortably full.
And what

of eating then?
How do I miss so many meals
that food
becomes an afterthought,
a reminder of day’s end,
a scribbled entry
on my To Do list
just below
Wash Car?

***

When we cover Glück’s text in class,
we are covering the world
with invention. One student postures, mocks
understanding so that the rest of us
might bend, might nod our heads
in false agreement, and make the universe
true. How easy to believe
these writings are a palimpsest
of youth, are the skin
and bleached bones of childhood.

When we break her poems down,
flatten passages into ugly
foreign things like cold soup
the dog won’t eat, perhaps her words
are no longer on display,
but rather, the contents
of her stomach.

***

If I have an alternate
version of myself, a twin
brother who haunts
another world, who finishes his book
when I do, or spends
more time staring
into the rear-view mirror
than watching the road
unfold before him,
will we ever meet?
Are his hips and arms
this slender?

Will my anonymous twin,
whom I’ve yet to discover, weigh
more than I do?
Will he eat without guilt?
Will his biceps flex
from beneath his shirt sleeves,
or will he survive
on plain bagels
and coffee?

***

The first time you hear it spoken
from a voice besides your own
is like a dropped tray
of dishes. Everything flies
everywhere. You could be reading an essay
on whale copulation, witch hunts
of the 1950’s, why some dogs

bury bones. Or
maybe during lunch – the woman
one booth away drops her
gaunt daughter’s name
over sashimi. Maybe she

leans in close and whispers
the girl’s affliction:
anorexia.
Or maybe this is not
how it happens at all. Maybe
it never does.

***

In the middle of the night,
when the sound of someone walking
past our front door is
an enormous burst of noise, and the moon,
a hideous thing, makes
its way into the bedroom
in skinny slats of light,
I sometimes pinch
my wife’s quiet arm
to find out if I’m dreaming.

If she screams my name, yells
Fuck, or maybe even
slaps my head
with the back of her hand,
it is safe to reveal myself
from the sheets,
maybe knock back a beer
or a glass of warm milk,
maybe eat a few bites
of chicken salad. But

if I wring her skin
and she sits bolt upright
from her own dream, twists
herself away from me
like an angry child, only to break
into laughter,
I know I am asleep.
Go back to bed, she giggles.
Count something.

***

If you do it long enough, one voice
sounds like the next.
It might belong to your father,
or the psychologist
who’s become your best friend.
But eventually, even your own voice
falls in line with the others:

Remove those rocks
from your coat pocket, and those
from under the elastic band
of your briefs. You must weigh-in
barefoot. In fact,
strip yourself naked. This bit

of bread – put it in your mouth.
Chew. Swallow. Repeat.

BD

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Responses

  1. strong shit, homeboy.

    • Thanks, sir. That’s a pretty goddamn awesome response. Seriously.

  2. See, I’m not overly sentimental, but this was really touching. Moreover, I tend to say inappropriate things when something’s emotional, because I dig putting on facades. So first, let me say, I appreciate the openess and honesty in the poem. Then, let me say…

    Jewish and anorexic…. now I understand why you named your baseball team, “The Rebel Jews.”

    • Wow! I mean, that’s high praise from you, MM. I know it must have pained you to some extent. Still, I greatly appreciate the kind words.

      Love,
      The Rebel Jews

  3. I’m pretty sure you won’t sit still until your ex-wife is upside-down in the back of a gravedigger’s eyes.

  4. […] I don’t even know that my brother read it. Somehow, though, after his comments to me about last week’s poem, featuring a poem about my “brother” seemed appropriate this time around. Just the […]


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