a very real poem and foreword on ED, by Rebecca Kokitus

tw: mentions of eating disorders

LIGHT AS A FEATHER

At sixteen years old I

learned how to levitate

I grew so light that I floated

in the locker-lined hallways—

two fingers tucked beneath

my edges like dressmaker pins

cradle each rib like a

menthol cigarette

a circle of all the girls I

aspired to be, holding me

an inch or two above the linoleum,

and nothing existed

between my heavy head

and my heavy feet

I hid in libraries at noon, I

blended in because my skin

turned the color of the pages

in the old books, sallow—but it

wasn’t shallow— though it was at first—

it became part of me, the yellowness

and the bruises on the world

each time I stood up too fast,

and my bones creaking like bedsprings

as I tossed and turned inside myself

*previously published by Lemon Star Mag

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Although all of my poems are in some way a part of me, this one in particular feels like something I tore right out of my chest and put on the page. It has been about two years since I generated the first draft of “LIGHT AS A FEATHER”—in late 2017, I was in a poetry class where I was assigned to write a confessional poem, and this is what I wrote.

The poem ended up being featured in my university’s student literary magazine, and I still remember the moment I let my mother read the poem for the first time. She didn’t say much, besides your father and I knew that something wasn’t right. This poem served as a confession in more ways than simply stylistically, it was an admission, and in many ways, an untethering. My poetry is, by nature, confessional, but this poem was different—it was the first poem I could remember writing about my eating disorder, which at that point, I had been suffering with for about five years. The poem was a confession to the self, more than anything else. When it comes to living with mental illness, there is always the factor of “validity” that looms in the background. Growing up in a low income family (not to mention a conservative, religious family that thought mental illness could be cured through prayer), I never had access to therapy. I was trapped in my own head—in a lot of ways, I still am. Without a diagnosis, it’s easy to feel “invalid”, and in the case of my eating disorder, this feeling was intensified by the fact that I never looked like I had an eating disorder—I had gone from overweight to “average”. I lost thirty-some pounds in a matter of months, and was met with congratulations and envy, but never concern. Even my doctor told me I looked great.

Given all of this, it has taken me years to acknowledge my eating disorder as real, as valid, as just as deadly as the same disorder when it is associated with a smaller body. I still struggle with this, but I have this particular poem to thank for this newfound acceptance and acknowledgement of my mental illness. Writing this poem opened up a floodgate in me—writing about my eating disorder came more and more naturally for me, and eventually, so did talking about it. The thing about writing about trauma and mental illness is that everyone likes a survivor story, everyone likes a hopeful ending. This isn’t something I can provide—this mental illness is still very much my reality, but writing about it is the only way I know how to heal.