Dreams (poem)

When I was a child I soared without wings

in my dreams.

These days I have nightmares

about missing class

or forgetting to go to work.

But once I was free in my dreams.

The corridor rushed toward me,

and went on forever.

It went on forever

Until I woke up in the real world

where I was shy and awkward.

Where I was clumsy and fell down.

Where pain and tears were part of life.

Over the years I’ve stopped dreaming of flying

and dream of running instead.

An Education (poem)

I.

My first day of school

I cried for my mother.

Exasperated,

my teacher sent me to the principal,

who, in desperation, gave me a newspaper

that I did not yet know how to read.

II.

Emma.

She called me fat,

and teased me.

Keri.

She pretended to be my friend,

all the while bullying and trying to control me.

My biggest lesson of elementary school:

It’s not okay to be myself.

III.

The school counselor could not help me.

I was on the bottom of the cheerleaders’ pyramid.

I pretended to lose my math book

so I would miss the bus.

My popular friend

could not make me popular.

IV.

College.

Working two jobs,

going to school full time.

Breaks are for studying and homework.

I am incredulous

when my professor is incredulous

that I don’t want to tutor for her.

“It’s only an hour a week.”

I don’t even have time to eat.

V.

My BA gathers dust

and I gather dust.

I was a fool to get a diploma

in a language I already speak.

A subject that only taught me

how to write poems

about how education sucks

On Barbies and Stephen King (nonfiction)

I recently gave my three-year-old daughter her first Barbie doll. Part of me felt guilty, since Barbies are associated with body image issues. I’ve thought about it in depth, and I’ve realized that I don’t hate my body because I played with Barbies as a kid. I never thought an eleven-inch-tall toy with rubber hands, plastic boobs, and oddly shaped feet was a practical model for how I was supposed to look. What really had an effect on my self-esteem was all the Stephen King books I read, starting at age ten. Stephen King just plain hates fat people, women in particular.

Take Christine, which was my first King novel. Dennis, the protagonist, describes in great detail how wonderful his girlfriend Leigh is, mostly because of her appearance: “She turned back to me, and I was struck by her beauty again, calm and undemanding except for those high, arrogant cheekbones…” He goes on about her grace and her breath like a rainforest and her perfect body. This is contrasted by a scene in the book when Dennis and his friend Arnie, who owns Christine, have an unpleasant encounter after Christine dies in a strange neighborhood: “a young woman waddled down toward us from her house…She was in dire need of Weight Watchers.” She complains in a less than intelligent manner about how Arnie needs to move his car, and is mean to her two dimwitted, junk-food-eating children. It’s not a pretty picture.

King’s writing is saturated with such characters. It’s also never that they’re just fat; they have terrible hygiene, too, and are usually not the sharpest tool in the shed. Every so often, he presents a character who is fat but also likable, like Gert in Rose Madder. She’s a funny, confident person who teaches self-defense to battered women. And at one point she incapacitates the villain by sitting on him. (And then peeing on him—what did I say about hygiene?)

Don’t get me wrong. I still feel nostalgia when I read those books (and I do occasionally still read them). I’ll never forget how the last time an adult read to me as a child was my late father reading to me from The Tommyknockers. I don’t blame King for all of my body issues. Other factors include the media, being teased in school, and low self-esteem all around. In the end, I’m okay with Layla playing with Barbies as long as she knows that Barbie is no more realistic than her anthropomorphic panda doll or her battery-operated Elmo guitar. If she wants to read Stephen King later down the road, I’ll have to sit her down and explain that he has a narrow vision of what is beautiful. And also that he has no room to talk because he looks like a turtle.

Shadow Self (poem)

She’s fourteen.

Medium height, slender,

waist-length hair as blue as her eyes.

She once broke her bed

with a baseball bat.

Cuts her arms with kitchen knives.

Pounds the wall until bruises

blossom on her knuckles

like poison flowers.

Misanthrope,

she seethes and boils

at the foolishness of others.

She hates everyone.

Alone at night she cries, sobs out

the busted machinery of her heart.

She wants to be loved,

but pushes people away.

She hates herself most of all.

Peace (poem)

Seeing her lying there

Clean white sheets

Penned in by bars

So small and helpless

I can almost pretend

She’s just napping

Like when she was new.

She needed me then

She needs me now

To be her strength, her mercy

To sever the cord

That connects her to me

Like when she was new.

I sit beside her and stroke her hair

Guiding her to sleep

Like when she was new

Only this time the tears are mine.

I brought her into this world

Knowing someday I’d leave her

But I wasn’t expecting this.

I think the only way I can live

Is to be grateful

That she is not in my position,

Will never be in my position.

I am there for her always

Like when she was new.

 

Every Day (poem)

Every day I peer into the bathroom mirror, trying to like the woman I see.

I hate my flat, thin hair. My friend has beautiful hair. It dazzles, her beautiful blonde curls haloing her face in soft waves. She has it done professionally; it costs over a hundred dollars and takes three hours.

I’ve lost eighty pounds this year. I run six miles a day and spend hours in the gym. My friend doesn’t eat much during the day, only dinner. She’s thinner than she used to be. Thinner than me.

I try to dress nicely, wear flattering clothes. My girdle squeezes my bulges of fat into submission. By the end of the day, my stomach will cry for release. I think of Victorian women, whose corsets deflated their lungs; I think of the men who sanctioned having women’s ribs removed for the sake of molding waists they could encircle with their hands.

I have boots that give me blisters, heels that cramp my calves. I have a pair of sandals that cut me. But no one can see the scars while I’m wearing them. My big feet disgust me. In China, they once reshaped girls’ feet by breaking their toes and forcing them into tiny shoes. Their options were a few years of pain in youth or a lifetime working in the fields because no man would marry a woman with unbound feet. It was for their own good.

I draw quick eyeliner strokes. My sister has her makeup tattooed on. She’s pleased when the cosmetician congratulates her for not squirming. She still has to apply extra layers of makeup; she says she doesn’t feel it anymore if she pokes herself in the eye.

I glare at my breasts, which are already beginning to sag. My friend is getting hers enlarged. I think of her small, perky chest being sliced open and foreign material shoved inside. I feel nauseous, and something else as well. Envy.