It’s one of my fears, anorexia. One of the things I fear for my daughter as she enters teenage-dom. Fortunately, she has a healthy relationship with food: she likes it. And she has a fast metabolism and plays a lot of sport. I know how quickly things can change and the day she refuses cake I shall worry.













I noticed it that summer term.

There was a warm spell and we opened the classroom windows to let in

whispers of grassed air from the playing fields.

Old leaded glass panes held by red sandstone mullions.

We took off our sweaters

and I saw them,

speared shoulder blades sprouting like wings through your shirt

and your neck sparrow-like and snappable,

your head held up by thin bone and sinew.


Always at the front,

your pin-thin legs coiled one round the other under the desk,

hair curled behind your left ear

always gold-glossed like sun on a wheat field.

Writing. And writing.

And always right.

Others thought you odd but

we were friends.

I knew your liking for nice things:

for poetry and words and the smell of libraries and good perfume.


And then the swan’s down cheeks and avoiding games.

And the blue mottled skin on the backs of your hands.

And the shape of your white bone skull through near-translucent skin.


I didn’t know how to help but

I wrote to you in that drab room,

letters full of gossip.

To make things normal.


They wouldn’t let you wash your hair.

Food then shampoo, they said.

But you couldn’t eat what they wanted you to eat

So your hair became moused and dull and thin.


It was months before you came back.




Filed under oddbods, poetry, writing

5 responses to “Cleverness

  1. Of course I know this person – ‘the hair curled behind your left ear’ is particularly evocative, I used to look at this too, the deliberate way she would tuck it back then lean forward to write once more, all in slow motion it seems – but I didn’t know about food then shampoo. Too cruel. I like the letters full of gossip – the gauche compassion of a teenager who knows something’s very wrong but doesn’t know what else to do. I think I needed Live Aid to awaken my compassion at that age!

    • Her’s is an image that’s been etched on my brain and I come back to it time and time again. I saw a distant acquaintance in the village yesterday who clearly had stopped eating and it was hugely upsetting. And yes, the food/shampoo thing was terribly cruel.

  2. I have two patients who I worry the most about. They both need to do something desperately soon with their weight; one needs to gain and one needs to lose. I think of them most days. And worry.
    Beautiful poem. So evocative, as ever. x

  3. Golly, that made my skin shiver. I worked with a lovely girl who did not survive the battle with anorexia. This is beautifully written, and exact. Wonderful work on a very sad and scary subject.

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