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Fall '23



The gimmicky, sun-melted metal, penguin charm around my ankle, given from you to me — near my toes — looks forlorn today. “Me too, penguin buddy, me too,” I say. Picking at the lock.
You froze me out. Eyes narrowed at me. Then, pausing. Internal howling. Get better, you shouted, from a distance.

The sun, dejected, staring blankly at the tears I wipe away. Gelatin: bulbous, slippery. & ice-cream without sprinkles. The sweetness masticates to a pulp, until I spit it out; love gone rotten.
       The thesaurus of words that would sum up my recovery.
                                                                     Sprinkles would have made it better.

Eat two scoops, the therapist said. Pretend one is for you & one is for someone you love.

Easier to go down, she added. I shrugged.


I pinch the nonfat that I swear I encounter, smooth and rich as a latte, near my elbows. Then, of course, I'll picture you. Gone but here. Even in your absence, I see your french-braid in my peripheral.

It’s not there,” you start. “There’s no fat there.

Anorexia is such a pretty word for such an ugly diagnosis. A slip-and-slide from denial, to dieting, to skipping breakfast, to sauntering down the pavement, running laps around the moon like a wolf until you’re 
                      mostly mange & bone, 
                                                                          where the body used to be.

Until you starve in nocturnal degrees, until you’re primal. Don’t be me.

The therapists leave you alone for longer than you would think safe, here. I turn the vanilla ice-cream in my palm like a cradle. Flip it upside down like an omelet in a pan.

    “You’re never going to get out. You’ll spend your days only daydreaming of me,” you say. Wolf notes near my ear, banal.
               “Is that how you want to be seen?” 


Curling & uncurling your ballet plied feet, flushed in fuschia toenail glitter. The kind that never looked any good on me. The leaps you always landed looking bigfoot-ish, crash landing filled, on me. The way I followed you, only to stumble. You wore pink leotards; mine were inky gray, elephant forgetting, ivory glistening white.


I clutch the secrets found in ribs. Remember I want to see you again. Eyeballs bulge. I only am allowed to see you if I leave here, in one piece.


All animal now, I lick the pavement, pretend it’s sun. Vanilla mixed with asphalt. Hope I get some calories before the sweetness sinks completely. Hoping no one sees my tongue, licking remnants of something already gone.


When I’m asked how this eating disorder harms me & I say it turns me into tongue & gravel & wolf & mammal —
I hope you’ll understand the words between the words. The pleats underneath the folds only I can see.


I hope you’ll howl in a chorus, like a wolf pack, instead of only me.

I hope you’ll plait my hair into a french braid — just like you — slowly, slowly,

So the strands, the parts that tie together —

do not unravel.

Leslie Cairns (she/her) has a chapbook through BottleCap Press (The Food is the Fodder). She is a 2023 Pushcart Prize nominee, and was nominated in 2022 as well. She loves writing about mental health and other topics. Find her on Twitter @starbucksgirly

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