Poetry / Jeremy Radin
:: A Song of Apples Falling Over a Cliff ::
A boy runs, dragging a forest behind him, babbling like a newspaper. Tigers file through the underbrush whispering Yiddish—or what in a child’s dream sounds like Yiddish. Between the boy & me, a coffin full of honey —we dip the bread, the apples, feed each other the sugar of years. Once I wore a tiger suit to the supermarket, growled up at stacks of cake. If I told you loneliness was a coffin built from sugar, what would you say with your warm & human mouth? I should tell you there’s a city where it always rains. I wish to live there. The boy wishes to live anywhere with tigers. The boy wishes to run. We were fat very quickly, a mountain of milk. The angel perches upon the fridge, in this, the room of my adulthood. A woman plays guitar & sings a song of apples falling over a cliff. Where does the moment go & my hair? Ah, Jeremychild—there are such nothings with which to fill our bellies. Such rooms to back out of. Such silences to say.
From the writer
:: Account ::
For the past ten years, I have been in—and out of—recovery for an eating disorder. I’m a compulsive volume eater, which means I obsessively want and attempt to eat more than I can eat. As a result of this, I have spent the majority of my life overweight, and I’ve let that condition dictate much of my life—I’ve allowed my fatness (and the myths I’ve made around my fatness) to keep me from intimacy both physical and emotional, connecting to my feelings, connecting to the divine, to friends, to family, to partners.
The book I’m working on endeavors to explore the facets of disordered eating, body image, and recovery through candor, humor, warmth, and bewilderment. Eating disorders are fluid. They are alive. They shift and adapt and survive. My eating disorder has all the tools at its disposal that I have—my imagination, intelligence, powers of rationalization—the difference is it doesn’t get tired. What can I use to create a dialogue with this tirelessness? What is tireless enough so as to be up to the task? Well, there is god. But I am not particularly religious. And so how do I attempt, in my way, to commune with god? Well, there is poetry.
Poetry has been a remarkably useful, if imperfect, tool in my recovery. It attempts to remain as fluid, as saltatory, as capable of leaping through and around the bounds of logic as the eating disorder itself. Poetry aims to occupy the space outside and beyond logic—the same space an eating disorder occupies. When one attempts to engage the eating disorder with logic, one becomes quickly frustrated. Often a binge is tied to nothing—it seems to have no origin; it just appears. So how do I meet the eating disorder where it lives? While in treatment I lead a poetry workshop in which my fellow eaters and non-eaters and I wrote odes to foods that terrified us. What we learned was that we were not writing odes to the food but to our ability to imbue the food with such size and meaning. What is an eating disorder if not the sign of a tremendous imagination? The capacity to create meaning out of nothing. And what is a poem?
We live in a time and in a country—and a global community—where it is difficult for me to conceive of the fact that there are people without eating disorders. I live in Los Angeles, where I am constantly bombarded with imagery that is deeply confusing—on Sunset Boulevard, a fifty-foot billboard of a model with a “perfect” body next to a fifty-foot billboard of a double bacon cheeseburger. And now, since the advent of the internet—a kind of portal onto a kind of Sunset Boulevard—these frustrating mixed messages have been globalized. How is anyone supposed to navigate purely this most basic of survival functions when we are told “eat this to look like this,” and then, not more than a few seconds later, “doesn’t this look delicious?” Shame over the one inevitably leads to engaging in the other: “I can’t look this this so I will eat this; I can’t eat this so I will look like this.” It is as if the food industry and beauty industry are tossing us gleefully back and forth, profiting not only off our confusion but, because we have been so fiercely shamed for it, our unwillingness to speak openly about this confusion.
My dream in working on this project is that it makes available more space where men can talk and listen freely, together about disordered eating and body image. I say specifically men because I am a man, and this is the version of the story I can tell. Eating disorders are rampant throughout all genders and it is certainly more difficult, for many reasons, being a fat woman in this country than a fat man—but I also believe that there is a dearth of literature surrounding men and eating and men and their bodies. This, I believe, is because men—as emotional oppressors—have not been forced to evolve emotionally as quickly and fully as women, and what women are attuned enough to their feelings to speak openly about, men are not.
It is a strange and complex thing to be a man with an eating disorder in this country. As is so often the case, this complexity is rooted in toxic masculinity. There exists the misogynistic consideration that an eating disorder is a “woman’s disease,” that for a man to struggle with an eating disorder is not only shameful in its own right, but emasculating—the idea being that only women could be weak and vain enough to be susceptible to these confusions. As a result of this consideration many men remain silent about their eating disorders—some to the point of death. Men are compulsive eaters, anorexics, bulimics, exercise bulimics, orthorexics, restrictors, etc. etc. As do so many tools of the patriarchy, this consideration hurts men under the guise of a sort of protection. Our silence will not protect us.
Each time I share with friends, write, or speak publicly about my eating disorder, fatness, etc., a layer of shame is shaved off. In fact, I have become deeply grateful to my eating disorder for the remarkable dialogues it has led me to. I wish for more men to enter into these conversations because I believe that they will not only serve to destigmatize disordered eating and body dysmorphia, but that they may grant men a tremendous insight into the lives of the people with whom we will be sharing these conversations, with whom we share this country, this planet, and will lead us toward more thoughtfulness and gentleness in our day to day encounters with other human beings, and, ultimately, with ourselves.
So for anyone who may be struggling with food and body image, in secret or not, I say to you: Hello. Let’s talk. I am not through it yet. I may never be. But I am here, and I know you are too. We are not alone.
Jeremy Radin is a poet, actor, and teacher. His poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) Gulf Coast, The Cortland Review, The Journal, Vinyl, Passages North, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Slow Dance with Sasquatch (Write Bloody Publishing, 2012) and Dear Sal (not a cult press, 2017). He lives in Los Angeles with his six plants and refrigerator. Follow him @germyradin.