Section 2 > Exercise 5 > Bulimia poem
Read the following poem on bulimia. As you read, list the features of bulimia the poem describes. Answer the discussion questions below.
by Denise Duhamel
A kiss has nothing to do with sex,
she thinks. Not really. That engulfing, that trying to take
all of another in for nourishment, to become one with her, to become
part of her cells. The way she must have had everything she wanted
in the womb, without asking. Without words,
kisses have barely the slurp-sound of a man entering a woman
or sliding back out – neither movement with even the warning of
The Greek word “buli,” animal hunger.
Petting, those kisses are called, or sometimes necking.
She read this advice in a sex manual once: “Take the man’s penis,
slowly at first, like you are licking a melting ice cream
from the rim of a cone.” But the gagging, the choke –
a hot gulp of tea, a small chicken bone, a wad of gum grown to big.
That wasn’t mentioned. It’s about what happens in her mouth
past her teeth, where there is no more control, like a waterfall –
or its being too late when the whole wedding cake is gone:
She orders one from a different bakery this time, so no one
will remember her past visits and catch on. She’s eating
slowly at first, tonguing icing from the plastic groom’s feet, the hem
of the bride’s gown, and those toothpick-points that kept them
rooted in pastry. She cuts the top tier into squares,
reception-like. (The thrill she knew of a wedding this past June,
stealing the white dessert into her purse, sucking
the sugary blue gel from a napkin one piece was wrapped in.
She was swallowing paper on her lone car ride home,
through a red light, on her way to another nap
from which she hoped a prince’s kiss would wake her.)
The second tier in her hands, by fistfuls, desperate
as the Third World child she saw on tv last week, taking in gruel.
Her head, light like her stomach is pumped up with air.
She can’t stop. She puckers up to the sticky crumbs under her nails.
Then there are the engraved Valentine candies:
CRAZY, DREAM GIRL, ACT NOW, YOU’RE HOT. She rips open the bag,
devouring as many messages as she can at once.
They all taste like chalk. She rocks back and forth.
She has to loosen the string on her sweat pants, part of her trousseau.
The bag of candy is emptied. The paper doily
under the cake’s third layer, smooth as a vacuumed ice-skating rink.
What has she done? In the bathroom, like what happened
to the mistakenly flushed-away bracelet, a gift
from her first boyfriend – the gold clasp silently unhooking
as she wiped herself, then, moments too late, noticing
her naked wrist under the running water of the rest room
sink’s faucet…She’s learned it’s best to wait ten minutes
to make herself throw up. Digestion begins at this point,
but the food hasn’t gotten very far. As ingenious as the first
few times she would consciously masturbate, making note of where
her fingers felt best, she devises a way to vomit
that only hurts for a second.
She takes off her sweatshirt and drapes it over a towel rack.
Then she pokes a Q-Tip on her soft palate. Keeping in mind
the diagram in her voice class, the cross section
of the mouth showing each part’s different function,
the palate – hidden and secret as a clitoris.
The teacher’s mentioning of its vulnerability, split-second
and nonchalant like a doctor and his tongue depressor.
It’s a fast prayer – she kneels in front of the toilet.
Her back jerks and arches the way it might
if she were moving her body to meet a man’s during intercourse.
She wipes what has sprayed back to her chest,
her throat as raw as a rape that’s happened to someone else.
She cleans the seat of the bowl with a rag, and cleans
her teeth with a second toothbrush she keeps for this purpose.
Her sweatshirt back on, she gets to the kitchen
to crush the cake box into a plastic garbage bag.
And leaves to dispose of it, not in the trashcan downstairs,
but in a dumpster way on the other side of town.
1. According to information from this poem, what are some of the features of this disorder? Compare your list by looking up the clinical diagnostic features of bulimia.
2. What is the speaker's attitude towards her sexuality? What does this poem teach you about the discrepancy between body image and the corresponding medical perspective? How would you approach this gap? For help, look up treatment of eating disorders.