I Am Fat, & When You Read this Poem, You Will Be Too

Dearhearts, I will call you dear for that is what
my mother called me, when you take my hand
this early winter the leaves have mushed to rot
too soon & the creatures of the land must find
some burrowing place, please see me as I have
seen myself, a woman brown & fat & dis-
pleasing/satisfied & when you step into my home
you need not wipe your feet but please
don’t call this a confessional box for you dear-
heart are guest, & you are welcome. I will feed.
Though I will not clean. Not the slurried mud
from the dog’s paws, not the coffee & blood 
staining all my once-best dresses, nor the milk.
Nor the yard, where the pumpkins never grew.

Dearhearts step inside & lock the door.
Marry at twenty-one the first boy or man who doesn’t
rape you. Go to Disneyland on your honeymoon.
Stand in line where a woman with her young daughter
turns to you, calls you disgusting. Tells your brand new
husband to find someone who takes better care 
of herself. Sever your tongue. Get out of line. 
Never stop crying. Dearhearts, I am sorry
to have put you in this poem. I never meant 
for you to feel the hurt I’ve felt. I know you’ve meant
well. You’ve been so concerned for my health. 
You’ve wanted nothing but the best for me. 

On the plane away from your shining best things
you must wrap your leaking breasts in lettuce leaves
& ask for a seatbelt extender. Please take a moment
to ask aloud. These words in your mouth, taste
the shape: I do not fit. Fly
toward an MFA you cannot afford. Spend
the next decade in poverty. But the poems 
keep you alive for the babies as they grow
into humans who likewise keep you alive for they
shine all the light that spills from your vastness
you’ve never learned to honor. You’ve taught them
to honor themselves. If you begin to worry 
you’re spending too much motherlove & never
enough culling the craft & omitting the excess shine,
form the shape again, everywhere: I do not fit
Steal a seatbelt extender when the flight
attendant isn’t looking, stash it in your under-
wear drawer back home so you never 
have to ask for one again. 

Develop a stomach condition that allows you 
only 700 calories a day for a year until a scalpel
& a string peel back from you the thing keeping
you sick. During that year bask in strangers’ sudden
approval, smiles even. Flirting. Lewd messages 
in your inbox. Stop basking. Stop pretending 
not even a small part of you feels satisfied 
that now you can be a part of the #metoo 
you were never invited to before. When you were fat. 
Though you long for wholeness, the narrative
comes out disjointed. Like your fatness. 
Now that you’ve starved to thinness, develop
ulcers & incessant heartburn despite the tums
& tums. Never sleep for the acid at your throat. 
Remember the taste of food, how it coats, how it
comforts. Begin to eat again. And again. 

Dearhearts, what are you eating? 
When the food soothes the pain, do you stop
at seven bites? Three ounces? A small ceramic
plate? The size of your fist? Do you recall
your heart is also the size of your fist?
Do you eat until the thing you eat resembles
the heart that beat inside you until 
the surgeon pulled it out? Are you tired
of being fat yet? Do you still worry about me?
Though sometimes, when you are me, you
disgust yourself too. Even so. I still love you.
& now that I’ve unzipped myself, you can back-
track. Forgive me if I do not see you out. 
I’m so tired. And need to lie down. 

If you were fat already before this poem began,
then you will be free. And in your freeness
dearest shining, before you check the garden
for new growth, before you bleach the brickred 
from your linen, from your knees, before
you even settle in to read or listen to the mewling
moon or the space where others have stopped wearing
you thin, you now can stretch your 
roots, your beautiful, dimpled, careworn 
belly, thighs, sprawling dew-kissed
skin. Before in your freeness you forget 
you’re free—     Come back for me.  

Jennifer Givhan, a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert, is the author of four full-length poetry collections, most recently Rosa’s Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series), two chapbooks, and the novels Trinity Sight and Jubilee (Blackstone Publishing). Her work has appeared in The Best of the NetBest New PoetsPoetry DailyVerse DailyPOETRY MagazineThe Rumpus, The New RepublicAGNI, TriQuarterly, The Nation, CrazyhorseWitness, Southern Humanities Review,and Kenyon Review. She has received, among other honors, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship, and New Ohio Review’s Poetry Prize, chosen by Tyehimba Jess. Givhan holds a Master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at jennifergivhan.com as well as Facebook & Twitter @JennGivhan. 

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