Wednesday, June 04, 2003

wrenched awake at 4 a.m. by the 2nd in a series of nights-of-nightmares, i write a poem:
body image in two parts

I. what the letter from the interviewer should have said

"... So I'm in africa now, a finger
of the peace corps (ha ha) and got
a copy of our paper. It's sad to be an alum,
but terrific to see that an interviewee I picked not just
got into school but flourished there!

"I remember when you walked in in
your Arden B suit crisp as plastic packaging,
a zipper clamping the 2 halves of your chest
together like a pacemaker scar, the skirt short
and to the point. Your mother bought that suit
for you in celebration when you traded in a permit
for a license, and with it a body.

"I don't believe you
the lady behind the window said, whose job it was
to record the numbers. Nobody loses 15 pounds
in a year.
You tried to smile as though you'd gone
for a walk everyday with half a pound or so hidden
in the denin by your ankle, and shaken it out in the woods,
like people tunnelling from prison dispose of dirt.

"At 16, or maybe earlier, your mother
wouldn't let you leave your room in shorts
argument: but J and N wear shorts this short!
retort: when you work out, and have legs as nice
as J and N, you can too.

"Flash-further-back: a child stands before a mirror
as colorful and round as she, delighted. Look mom!
she says, lifting her shirt to her armpits. I have a tummy!
Mom says, that�s cause you don�t exercise.

"You spared the skeptic at the window these stories,
and others: of rationing your cereal, flake
by flake; of sugarless gum by the mouthful; of your
oldertaller brother�s shirts that became
your mobile home; of black, the shade of self-pity,
your pirate flag. You didn't mention to the woman
the actual number was 20, not 15.
Embarrassed, on the permit form, you'd lied.

"But I gotta say, the suit
suited. It did its work. I was impressed. Those legs!
Not long by any means, the shoes helped; a nice shape
though, trimmed from finally learning not to run
just one mile but two. The contacts, the gel � we like
these here at Swarthmore College, even if we say we don�t
(don�t worry about makeup though, that�s
where we draw the line)

"reading your review, I�m glad
you fit in so well. Obscure Chinese films
don�t make their way down here too often, but
it this one does, I'll be sure to go and think
of you! and hold onto that suit, I gotta tell ya
I can't tell where you�d be without it."

II. Heather's suggestion

a cruise ship! Spend the day in oslo; To and From,
with all your friends, at night,
only $130 including dinner!

I arrived early, curious; satisfied myself there was
nothing to do (the other passengers:
sullen families with small children and a convention
of the disabled) but drink, and stocked up
with my friends at the Duty Free

everyone mobbed the banquet room
at dinner time, figuring at least a buffet could amuse
for a while. as soon
as we sat down, we felt the waves

will they stop? we finally asked a steward once
we�d equalled the pallor of our beans. Oh, around dawn,
he said with the determined-cheerful air of one
who is paid not to apologize. There are pills
if you need them

steaming plates of shellfish, abandoned

waves of cheap alcohol crashed
inside, treble to the rocking bass of the ship

I landed on the bottom floor, told the movement
was less moving there, body pressed against it
like a forehead to a cold wet cloth

On the way Back from oslo, we were grimly
prepared. to begin with, we skipped dinner, 3 of my
girl friends and I, slipping instead through a back entrace
into the sauna. we stripped in the locker room, I
determined to be as unself-conscious as my lovely
friend heather, whose idea this was, though
I'd only been publically naked once before
in my post-puberty life, and that was at night

ready? we asked each other, and
went in, peeling off our towels and affixing ourselves,
stamps on envelopes, to the white benches.
on cue, the boat began to sway / we
began to sweat. we rocked
together, breathing deeply. no one spoke.
I noticed the others' tidy breasts but didn�t dwell.

We lingered
longer than was wise, perhaps, nursed
by nakedness, inured by nakedness, somehow,
against nausea. we showered quickly
and decided to dash to our rooms to avoid
the sickening sight of the everywhere sick. As we
left the sauna, immediately, we passed a boy who paused
a thoughtful moment, then sprayed the carpet

hurry, hurry �
we made it to our rooms
and locked the doors. my usually feeble,
unshowcased stomach and I, that night,
made each other proud.

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