“Women in my family have been shrinking for decades”

Start your morning with this breathtaking poem by Lily Myers of Wesleyan University. It will wake you the fuck up, in more ways than one.

Transcript below the jump.

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 wave of her fork
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate
I realize that 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 feels 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 now, “she’s crazy about fruit!”
It was the same with his parents: As my grandmother became frail and angular, her husband swelled, with big red cheeks, a 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 its 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 produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence. You used 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 from each other, the way each generation taught the next how to knit.
Weaving silence into the threads, which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house.
My skin itching, picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped
Like bits of crumpled paper from her pocked on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again
Nights I hear her creeping down to eat plain yoghurt 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 any more
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 whole 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.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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