“Shrinking Woman”

May 17, 2015 § 1 Comment

Across from me at the kitchen table,
My mother smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass.
She says she doesn’t deprive herself,
But I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork,
In every crinkle in her brow,
As she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate.
I’ve realised she only eats dinner when I suggest it.
I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so.

Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return
It’s proportional.
As she shrinks – the space around her seems increasingly vast.
She wanes while my father waxes.
His stomach has grown round
With wine, late nights, oysters, poetry.
A new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager,
but my dad reports that now “she’s crazy about fruit”.

It was the same with his parents;
As my grandmother became frail and angular,
Her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund stomach,
And I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking,
Making space for the entrance of men into their lives,
not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave.

I have been taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks;
I have been taught to filter.

“How can anyone have a relationship to food?”
he asks, laughing,
As I eat the black bean soup I chose for it’s lack of carbs.

I want to say :

“We come from difference, Jonas,

You have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in.
You learned from our father how to emit,
How to emit, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence,
You use to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much.
I learned to absorb.

I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I learned to read the knots in her forehead
While the guys went out for oysters,
And I never meant to replicate her,
But spend enough time sitting across from someone,
And you pick up their habits.

That’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.
We all learned it form each other,
The way each generation taught the next how to knit,
Weaving silence in between the threads,
Which I can still feel as I walk through the ever-growing house,
Skin itching,
Picking up the habits my mother had unwittingly dropped,
Like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips
From bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again.
Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark,
A fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled,
Deciding how many bites is too many,
How much space she deserves to occupy.

Watching the struggle, I either mimic or hate her,
And I don’t want to do either anymore.
But the burden of this house has followed me across the country.
I asked five questions in genetics class today
And all of them started with the word “Sorry.”
I don’t know the Capstone requirements for the Sociology major
Because I spent the entire meeting deciding whether or not
I could have another piece of pizza;
A circular obsession I never wanted,
But inheritance is accidental,
Still staring at me with wine-soaked lips
From across the kitchen table.

By Lily Myers

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§ One Response to “Shrinking Woman”

  • Mimi says:

    I love the acerbic ease in which this poem identifies the subtle constancy of how women are socialised.

    Such expectations and norms are not solely ‘issued’ as part of gender expectation; these pervasive parameters are also predetermined according to social, societal, stereotypical and familial expectation.

    – Lest we forget the ubiquitous impact and density of expectancy, which is bestowed like an inheritance – therefore becoming akin to a genetic disposition.

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