Sunday, December 28, 2014


On a 1-10 scale of suck to awesome in terms of quality and style, I'd give this poem a 3.

On a 1-10 scale of suck to awesome in terms of making me feel good for having written it, I'd give it an 8.

That makes it somewhat of a win.

Holidays are hard, you know?  Family is hard sometimes, for many reasons.  Christmas means I see family that I see once a year for Christmas, and also see grandparents -- which is frequently challenging.  For some reason, even though I am 29 years old, the only topic of conversation I can reliably count on is everyone (a) commenting on my how much my sisters and I look alike, (b) analyzing which of our parents each of us look most like; (c) commenting on my clothing and my body.  Growing up with a sister with an eating disorder, I have always been hyper attuned to the body-talk.  Growing up with grandparents that commented on and made suggestions about my clothing, my weight, my acne, and my fingernails (I'm not even kidding), I was always extremely aware and, often, self-conscious.  Even close family friends - it was all they could talk about.  I remember one long conversation with my grandmother's friend who told me I have beautiful ears.  I constantly felt like every part of my body was being scrutinized.  Growing up with a grandfather who often made very inappropriate comments about my changing and growing body, I often felt a sense of shame - although it has taken many years to name these comments for what they were, and to name that feeling as shame.

Regardless, finally, at age 29, I get it.  So when I showed up to Christmas this year, and everyone commented on how much my sisters and I look alike, and which one of my parents I look most like, and commented on my clothing and my body and how good or not-good I look, I. Was. Pissed.  PISSED, I tell you, because I came away feeling like my body was torn apart and judged and picked to pieces.  I felt like the message was that, somehow, other people own my body.  Like this space that I take up is not my own.  As if we don't get that message from everywhere else enough already.

For me, the most powerful line here is this: "this body is not yours to love."  

When you have people commenting on every part of your body from your fingernails to your ears, and expressing judgment about every part of your body, as far back as you can come to evaluate your body, and your attractiveness and worth (because, you know, of course those things are one and the same...*groan*) based on what others tell you.  "Well Bubby likes my hair...and Aunt Betty likes my ears...and Grandmother says I have nice ankles..."  I think I came to associate my body's worth based on others' appreciation of it (and its lack of worth based on others' comments).  It's easier, though, to reject others' criticism of your body than to reject their compliments.  But both are worthless, I'm realizing, because this body is mine.  It is mine to love, in the way that I see fit, in the way that works for me, in the ways that I can.  This body?  It is not yours to love.


After 29 years, the debate still rages:
do I look more like my mother? Or my father?
To whom can I attribute my coloring?  My nose? My facial structure?
The color of my hair, the size of my bones, my height, my weight, my smile
are all up for grabs.
Depending on the day and who is present
one side or the other will claim the pieces of me they decide
are most desirable.
Like vultures clamoring over the pieces and parts
they never stop to acknowledge my breathing -
just claim each piece as their own as though
it was the highest form of compliment.
I am nothing more than a pieced together statue of left-overs
waiting to be critiqued
by her makers.

They say it all comes down to genetics.
But Mendel didn't ask the peas to claim their offspring's shells.
Didn't tell the male he owned his child's shade of green,
never asked the female to claim the shape of her little shoots' pod.
He didn't make the children trace genograms in their tendrils
didn't force them to be nothing but a sum of their parts
collected into the outline
of a family tree.

My body is more than composition.
My face is not the outline.
My eyes are not subject
my nose, not object,
my hair is not adjective designed
to complement the shape of your pieces.
My breasts are not questions,
my hips do not rest in my body like punctuation,
my thighs are not adverbs inviting you softly,
this body is not meant to be diagrammed like a sentence.

My body is poetry-
it is living,
flawed and fluid,
I want to tell them:
I learned the pieces of you before I could choose.
I am learning the pieces of me by choice:
my body learns from the pieces
I have inherited
but arrives upon its own
new answers.

This body is not yours because you birthed it.
Is not yours because it resembles you.
Is not yours because you recognize its edges, its softness, its stretch.
This body's pieces are not yours because they appeal to your sense of beauty.
Its weight is not yours to notice, to touch, to review,
this body is not yours to know.
Not yours to define.
Not yours to comment on
to claim
to reject,
you do not get to name, or outline her boundaries.
This body is not yours to love.

After 29 years, the answer is simple:
my cells come undeniably from your lineage.
My eyes shine with the light of generations.
And even so -
I make it all

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