I don’t usually like to preface my writing with explanation or apologies, a habit I learned from Hollins where my work was expected to stand alone and endure critique with an author’s closed mouth, but this poem, being the first for the blog and a rather personal one, warrants an introduction.
I am allergic to dairy, more specifically the protein casein, and like the internet my allergy affects all aspects of my life– professional and personal. As this blog attempts to live in that blurred space where the personal can exist alongside the professional, I ask you to humor this post. It has been five years since my diagnosis in Kansas City. I remember the meal before, well I used to, today I have managed to blur out the food (which I now imagine to be chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes covered in gravy) and focus on the way I felt after I ate it.
It was the summer of 2011 and I was twenty running up fast on twenty one. In the tall chairs, I took the cloth napkin and coughed urgently to clear my airwaves. It was getting harder and harder to breathe after I ate, I could not walk very far or fast, my insides were inflamed, I carried around eleven kidney stones with more tucked into the cavities of my extra porous, hard to photograph kidneys.
Thinking back on it, I have always had a complicated relationship with my body– who doesn’t? My early notebooks are filled with me trying to sort out the war my body was waging on me. Eating was always painful. Every year I was sick with bronchitis. I kept poisoning my body until finally it began shutting down.
I try to focus for the most part on the positives. Homemade chicken fried steak, a delicacy my mother is often willing to oblige me with, is still delicious. After five years, I have started to forget the tastes of certain foods and my taste buds take more kindly to dairy-free alternatives. My health is better than it ever has been in my entire life on a dairy-free diet and at the same time it is also more fragile and vulnerable than ever before.
I am fragile at farmer’s markets with signs marking cookie samples to be “Gluten and Dairy-Free!” with hearts and butterflies. Even if I tell the woman of my allergy, she will only respond after I take a bite, “I use butter, but that’s okay.”
In the middle of the night, shared kitchens are dangerous places. Coffee Mocha Milk looks the same in the dark as Almond Chocolate Milk.
I am vulnerable at a restaurant with a waiter who doesn’t care to tell the kitchen not to fry cheese into the flautas– realizing their mistake as I throw up in their bathroom. Their manager offering me her phone number and texting me apologies but not responding to my texts inquiring if her staff had a safety meeting on allergies.
I have had a summer filled with incidents and now I find myself in a waning stage on the verge of waxing back into good health. I usually like to write to people from the “upswing” of things, with an optimistic forecast and quite honestly, that is where I am. But I am in the low point of my swing up and the wane is still painfully fresh in my body. Last night it woke me up and with a pain in my side and my stomach clenched, I wrote this poem. It is rough and raw, similar to how I feel about the whole matter.
I want to wax like the moon, grow full, and heavy, and bright.
My body does not comply.
I wane, with a shaky body rejecting food.
I wane, with a shaky body rejecting dance.
I yearn to wax, to add thin layer by layer until a fully curved, ripe orb.
I wane, with shared kitchens and simple mistakes.
I wane, my ribcage exposed, my innards beating on the bars.
I am determined to wax a layer and dream of shining the night as bright as day.
Sandburs stick inside of me, churning my progress out my gut.
I wane away another layer, another hope.
A hope that I’d wax a figure so full as to crowd the sky.
One night, you will see the sky bespackled with stars in dark space, unpolluted with reflective light.
“new moon,” you might say.
“dead moon,” I say as I wane, wane away.