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Reduce -- poetry by Meredith Caldwell

She doesn’t mean for it to hurt, and it wouldn’t be too bad if I weren’t so sensitive

But it does and it hurts and I am

I am too many things, too much, I learn in the naked light of a changing room

Trapped in a dress that doesn’t zip all the way-

The extra layer shames me.

I am too young to wear something “like that”, but I do not know why just yet

I am too tall for those shorts, but only around men

I am youth twelve, both in size and age

I weigh more than mother did than when she was seventeen

A relative wraps his hands around my waist and asks me if I’m in my twenties

I am not, not in diameter, not in years

He says my aunt, is, that she’s smaller than me and pregnant

I think that neither of them are healthy,

And the extra layer does not protect me.

I crave too much, that’s the problem, an aunt says,

Poking my stomach, white against her sun-spotted fingers

Am I at fault for how she sees me

When I crave change as well?

She doesn’t offer me second helpings at the dinner table

Any kind of helping, really

But she does spoon more salad on my plate than others

When I vomit a garden after she doesn’t mention it to anyone.

The unblinking porcelain cyclops,

with its eye waterier than mine

remains oh-so pale when my eyes only get redder.

The burning drips from my eyes and claws my throat,

It promises a hoarse voice and weak excuses to tomorrow

It protests the fingers that prod at it,

While the other fingers fight to keep gripping the bowl.

I’m disgusted, always disgusted

The taste, the smell, the location

The stigma and questions and pain

But most of all, overpoweringly at me,

For the veiny lightning marks along my stomach

For my ribs that I cannot see,

And skin I wish I could flush away instead

Yet I cannot,

The finger wins the battle against my throat

And a dinner that tasted like guilt comes back with the flavor of shame.


I make it an acronym instead of a problem,

A phrase with less weight than I used to be,

The only label I refuse to read far into,

And a way to reduce yet again.

There are unspoken rules in this family,

Don’t eat and don’t talk unless it’s about someone else

I seem to be that else more and more

And I become less and less to blend in

I begin to look like my mother

As white as the bones that have begun to show through my skin

I didn’t realize it’d hurt me to hug her when I lost more of myself

But it hurts less than being.

The missing layer shames me.


Meredith Caldwell is an 18 year old from Texas. She teaches art to elementary students, sells paintings, and plays guitar outside of school. This is her first publication.

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