Jen Karetnick's fourth full-length book is the 2021 CIPA EVVY Gold Medal winner The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, September 2020). Forthcoming books include Hunger Until It's Pain (Salmon Poetry, spring 2023) and the chapbook What Forges Us Steel: The Judge Judy Poems (Alternating Current Press). She has won the Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry, Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition, Hart Crane Memorial Prize, and Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, among others, and received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Artists in Residence in the Everglades, the Deering Estate, Maryland Transit Authority, and elsewhere. Co-founder and managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, she has had work recently or forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Cutthroat, DIAGRAM, Jet Fuel Review, Notre Dame Review, The Penn Review, Ruminate, Tar River Poetry, Terrain.org, and elsewhere. See jkaretnick.com.
When the endocrinologist asks if I am anorexic I think
about how in college I would use my two obverse teeth
to nibble the crystallized salt off the cement of a sourdough
twist, then quietly heave it in the trash rather than let
the sand of it, crushed and sodden, enjamb my molars.
I think about how, anxious in high school, I would skip
weekday meals, cycle my ten-speed ten miles, make a pit
stop at the 7-Eleven to buy a diet soda and a fat thumb
of pickle, tongs aimed at the smallest, quick-salted cuke
bobbing in a plastic jug the size of a wheel. About the
Saturdays and Sundays organizing workouts to burn off
a solo pop-top jar of baby shrimp floating in cocktail’s
plasma zing. Sit-ups in my room. Foot always tapping in
vivacissimo rhythms for acquiring additional caloric
burn. Salt in, salt out—an axiom toward a calcium and
collagen reveal. How could I know my body would pare
away like a canyon as I aged, like a leg of a peninsula licked
and chewed by waves. How carved and fixed I would become,
landscape of immeasurable disease. Decades away, I claim
such urges are gone, even as memories jog back. She quizzes
me anyway on my diet. Walks me over to be re-weighed.
Maybe the nurse was wrong, she says, then exclaims about
my BMI, juries the medications I take to maintain status quo,
scolds me about my spongy bones, reclaimed from brine.
She wants me to see myself through her eyes—sunken, sieved,
coral for tropical fish—failing to find my job as food critic
ironic, insisting this quixotic knot is of my own tying. So
again I look to snacks thought up by Italian monks, built into
praying arms, crux of flour and fluid and salt. Or a braid, a slim
stick, a rod, Catholic kazoo I hum any starvation through,
thanks to Swiss immigrants who brought them to North America
in the nineteenth century to hunt on Easter morning, proxy cadavers
for Jesus. These days it’s not my hunger that’s apparent, it’s how
I satisfy it with wheat harvested by Midwestern combines, the grit
and crunch I take on so brazen that no one need equate it with disorder.