Hunger

The summer I lost
forty pounds
in a month and a half,
I loved nothing—

not the lake shriveled
in its bed of silt
like a spent snakeskin,

not the pagoda
that spat bees
from pale-lipped blossoms
on my afternoon runs.

I know some who say
the starved hear God
deep inside their bones
like the silence in a bell,

and maybe it’s true,

because that summer
I realized how much
I’d never known
about my body.

I learned I could run five miles
on six hundred calories
a day. I learned to weigh

myself naked so my clothes
didn’t add extra ounces.
I grew to covet falling

asleep with daggers of hunger
sparkling beneath my chest
and love how much it hurt.

Each jagged jolt of pain
meant success,
meant my body shrank

into a purer state
like something boiled.

I studied my reflection
as if I would be tested
on what I saw,
and I didn’t see
myself changing.

Each morning, as my parents
slept cocooned in the dark,
I stood alone in the bathroom,
a penitent at prayer,

holding my breath
looking down over my penis
while the scale blinked

and considered how much
it wanted me to suffer.

Whether breakfast would be
half a bagel,
or the smallest apple
in the fruit drawer.

And when the scale revealed
I’d lost five pounds,
and small quills of joy
surged through me like worship,

I rejoiced, so close to sealing
all my flesh up in a single cell.

Downstairs, I speckled crumbs
across the counter, and loaded
enough plates in the dishwasher
so it seemed I’d cooked breakfast,

then drank a gleaming glass
of orange juice to last me
until dinner. On my way out,

I pinched the loose fat
between my last rib and hip,

wondering how tight
I needed to squeeze
before it all disappeared.

By Kirk Schlueter

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