The girl was born with one
that could keep the village safe.
It was her sole purpose.
The eye witnessed a mother
ice, her children
three small stumps
frozen on the river’s edge,
the father slumped in shadows,
a rope around his neck.
What good was all that seeing
when she had no way
to tell it? Look at her eye now—
bitter, furious flower
infested by bees & flies.
Look at it
For the fast I purchased three quarts
of juice. I’d be thin as a ruse.
A week of nothing
My system would be
clean. O gleaming discipline.
The scanter I became,
the greedier I got
Allotment: one square
of light & a half-crust & grapeskin
Is that enough to leave a trail, to get back?
sufficient to keep me
walking to the room
where the scale waited
I could live on a bead—
shiny or dull—
and not collapse
Let the empty swings sway
Let streetlights dim
Let the wind and mousy-haired rain and even the sun eat away at me
That large rectangular restaurant window,
steam in the glass, wide tables,
grandmother & grandfather
from distant mesas and buttes sitting with me
eating as though we’d just seen a ballet.
It was cold enough to be Christmas.
The spruce & scarlet globes hanging
& everything shimmering. My grandmother looking
directly at me. She’s thin. My grandfather glancing up.
Strewn between us: handfuls of shatter & tinsel & tin
& meat & things I would never eat—
It was there they gutted earth
to lay two black tracks that couldn’t touch.
There, the train. There, my seat by the window
where I sat on a real square of light—
tissue-sized. I felt my bones clear
as an X-ray, their starry knobs, the hard
weft and slope. With the first jolt
of the car, they thrummed.
Half my weight dropped, loose
flesh lost, I was getting close to the marrow,
claiming my landscape—
the spectacular hill-bone of my wrist rising
as I turned in my ticket, my knee bulging
larger than my thigh.
The train lurched, its one yellow eye
fixed north where my mother waited
and would, for the first time, see me as I was.
Not eating was a sign
in our house: after he & he & he left,
my mother stunned
thin as a rake, draped
in her wedding veil, bruised eye
her sisters dusting every corner,
In my bed, I froze,
coiled with snakes, wet with piss. Mouth
stuffed with a fist
lest someone hear—
I was a gaunt circus horse practicing my getaway—
running for hours in circles
in the training gym
around wires & nets & shovels for shit—.
Slashing at my forelegs,
one of those circus barb-hooks.
I rounded the next bend, windblown mane, ankles grinding
It’s a quick trick:
Sink into the box—
the mustachioed man
(jacket-tails flicked back, slick hair)
saws through you slowly…
then it’s rising time. Shake off the bone-flecks—you’re
halved, a lean miracle!
I slept in a house of hexagons,
the boxes we didn’t unpack complicated
with twine & string & flaps—
It was a house of emergency exits,
no door. You had to be really thin
to make it out.
I fashioned a small snow-girl with one eye.
Caped in an icy sheen, snow-father leaned
off to the side, two brothers heaped like ghosts
unable to protect themselves from the sun,
snow-mother losing her figure
after the blizzard, trickling underground.
All winter their mouths filled
and dissolved. Sometimes as they melted,
they sunk under a headdress of starlings
and sparrows, twigs loosening from their sides,
eyes disappearing, small whitish-gray sockets
replacing them. I stared in vain
as though in my looking I could
save what was made to be
Once I so loved
the tiny pink-tulled ballerina
in the music box,
I cut her off at the feet.
Poor stiff girl, perpetually
en pointe and lamed, toppling every time I tried
to twirl her
in my palm
while the stage whirled
without her…the tinkly music slowing to a drawl and slur….
I thought I could make it out by tunneling
through dirt, pushing
my star-snout through, leaving
a wake of spider-bits,
& the horrified faces of my family
standing at the mouth
of the hole.
They couldn’t fit within
what I’d made, & I had no space
in there to turn back
I tunneled away
from houses, people,
flowers, birds…the hole
narrowing, my hands & body
falling into a rhythm
of my own
I circled, circled the campus—Where’s
the carcass, the feast?—greedy for the fat
double digits of the scale I stood upon….
I leaned hard into a book…words—my breath,
in a dark wash of ink.
Farewell, meadow & stoplight—
A collarbone in every poem I wrote.
Wedged between grocery shelves & bins
of loose bulk, I couldn’t choose a morsel.
At nineteen, reverent
& ashamed, I emptied a box of laxatives nightly—then drank
a syrup that would heave my guts up
through the throat.
Who is that figure? What is
The people were so hungry they ate
dark plate after plate
of what I fed them—
asking for more….Too heavy, too heavy they hissed,
when I picked up a fork.
I lowered the blinds, sat
in the lack—
diminished, slack, grotesque—
just a body in the dark relieved
of its reaching, free
of its brain, its heart.
All mine I whispered
to the swelling empire
took a reflex-
hammer to the hard knot of knee—.
Pliers quietly undid
the wires of Appetite.
A donkey’s head in a cage
brayed & brayed. A test
of endurance not
to drop everything & save it.
The world was fixed as a crumb
on the tongue.
The stethoscope a pendulum
steal a scalpel, pare more
another sweater over
your summer bones….
Is that a boy or a girl
the child asked her mother while looking at me
I became absolutely perfectly silver in that
I turned sideways I
What was I
that I chose not to float
that I lay thick with mollusks
my mouth filling
with algae I neither swallowed
that I chose not to eat
like an animal
sickened on the salt of upheaval
each ounce I weighed
had an equivalent
or was I human—
gagging what was
I made a god—
I offered her bones
& she ate nothing
but fire fire
& whatever wind it was
that failed in that moment
to lift me
from the dark
strangle of weed
and push an oar
Remember the days of no
the thin quavery finger
of the scale to settle
on a low stolid number
concave enough to hold the real
jewel! To be glimmering pure and null….
In a blur of dream,
I imagined 60—the needle
trembling leftwardly, lower—a near invisible stinger
in its angle—one last
shudder to the left—
How did you make it back?
asks the stone lion I pressed my body against
before blacking out—
asks the forking wisteria of my mother’s forest
where I retched repeatedly after eating—
asks the sealed book I lay against
whose blood, scorching inside
with a life I shrank from, was my blood—
How did you make it back? echoes the last glass
of milk I didn’t drink.
At the hospital’s check-in desk, they took my name. My mother
trembled, the nurse handing me
the yellow wrist ID for the children’s ward.
you don’t have to
do this you knowmy mother cried you don’t have to
go inside we can
go home what do you want to do
Looking away from her, I turned
down the shining corridor on my pin-thin legs,
past the medics in green, the silver IV machines, tubes
& sacs swaying—
I carried my bag into the room.
Thank you for the cherries I wrote
my father, my throat still too thick
to swallow sweet bits, the girl
in the hospital bed beside me scowling
at my gift. The next day the whole basket
vanished. The girl brooded, skin
marked up where she had tried to cut
herself open. They pulled me back
for what? She looked my way. Nobody
gives a shit about me. Nobody
visited her side those months, while mine surged
with people & flowers & chocolate
I couldn’t eat—have it, have at it I said
but she took only one, watching me warily,
calling me Skinny as I folded myself up on the sill looking out
at brick & alleyway, dumpster & anemic
On the day she tried to kill me,
her hands scarred rough & tight around
my neck, hissing threats, I hoarsely
issued reasons for her to stop. I spoke with the calm
of one who knows herself. But you don’t even want
to live she cried, dropping her hands,
& I took my first full breath.
The women are trooping over hills, through
fields & rivers. They splinter as they stride, narrow
between trees & sparkling. Their eyes harder
than glass, than bone. Women trooping, brushing
against railings & mirrors, you would think their elbows
could cut through iron & glass, but iron & glass are
smarting their calves & thighs & necks & lips.
Even the rain is on parade—delicately tinkling
& cutting the women ever-so-lightly as they troop & thin
en masse over bits of glass & diamonds & caulk, bearing
gleaming compacts & glass jars of chalk. A glimmering
glass set—. How brightly the women thin in the gloss—
poised, swallowed by dumb reflective
surfaces with a sheen that stuns—.
(O Shining Epidemic!)
When the sun
drops low & the women lie safely
abed, their skin covered by glittering gauze,
their hard eyes focus solely
on themselves as things that need
thinning, weapons that will harm.
In deep green spring—
in thick shawls, full sleeves,
in my emaciation—
kneeling in sweet grass,
I was sealed, almost holy, cloistered
from men, from women.
I had made myself
Lovers sailed past,
arm-in-arm, ample with flowers, I smelled the largeness
of their skin, felt their hands, their lips…
a bird inside me
widened its beak—
Copyright © 2021 Alessandra Lynch
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.