July 21, 2017

Katie Bickham

A DIFFERENT ANIMAL

1

Early in the morning, I ghosted 
into the white tile bathroom, stripped—
even my jewelry—

drove myself to vomit, spit, 
and defecate, shook out the ounces of my breath,
and took my weight. I avoided my crooked

reflection in the silver towel rack.
The worst days, I pondered quarters
of pounds harbored in my tonsils and my hair.

Eighteen summers, I silently mined
my body, seeking the fossil
of my skeleton inside me.

My mother watched me swallow
syruped squares of French toast.
She knew and didn’t know.

My death dangled on the edge
of every conversation,
a desperate drop on a cup’s rim. 

Humans facing death in youth
try to swallow everything, cry injustice, 
make wishes, hold their breath.

Dogs refuse food. When Sophie,
our Labrador, faced her end too soon,
my mother crawled beside her

with warm beef stew and my soft 
baby spoon. The dog died,
salivating.

2

I walked down the aisle with whale bones
circling my ribcage. I pictured the whale
vomiting Jonah onto the beach.

I had never purged in church
until that day. God was alive 
in those years and I knew

he saw me, corseted,
flowers fastened in my hair,
and looked away.

My husband tells me years later
the horror
of my torso from the room’s other end.

I feel proud,
but do not 
say it.

3

My doe-eyed mutt stands in the corner 
of the bathroom, watching me heave
my whole life into the toilet

on all fours. I suspect she’s always thought
we were the same—that I was
just another sort of dog

until this moment. She knows now,
I am a different animal entirely:
a creature dragging back

to its own ooze, a broken beast, rotten
with a sickness she can smell. And she
can’t tell a soul. 

After I’ve scrubbed my hand,
my weak teeth, I kneel again
and pat my knee.

Because she is a dog, she comes quickly
and fills my palms with her heavy head.
Starving, I let her love me.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]

__________

Katie Bickham: “Eating disorder is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, and I have been wrestling with it for over a decade now. Disordered eating is one of the strangest mental illnesses, because it’s one that the sufferer almost always wants to have on some level. I’ve often felt addicted to anorexia and bulimia, strangely happy with the havoc they wreak on my body, hesitant to lay them aside and ‘grow.’ The strangest part of it is that I’m a feminist and support a woman’s control over her body and reject male-driven beauty norms. But still, I fight to shrink, to disappear. Then one day, a new therapist who I went to see when there was nothing left to do but die told me something that seemed to throw everything into reverse. She said, ‘You deserve to take up space in the world.’ That same week, I started graduate school and work on my first book of poems. I have grown—in every sense—but the desire is always there waiting.” (website)

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