By Stephanie Couey
In thirteenth century France, Marguerite Porete, a beguine, wrote The Mirror of Simple Souls, stating that she herself did not write the book, but that God came through her and willed the book into existence. Mirror is a perplexing piece of hybrid writing to say the least – comprised of poetry, prose, dramatic dialogue (between allegoric characters such as Love and Reason, Justice and Mercy), prayer, and even contains what can only be called a self-help guide. In it, Porete, (arguably operating under her own form of Gertrude Stein’s “automatic writing,” in which the writing is coming from God) advocates for “annihilating” the self, or essentially stripping all of the components of the self — ego, possessions, earthly pleasures and ties, even name and identity — bare, in order to arrive at, and finally make room for, God. She argues that the self is precisely what is stopping one from being able to truly know God.
The experience of encountering the Sublime requires a similar humility or abandonment of self. The Sublime experience precedes comprehension, which makes it separate from the knowing that the I-Self possesses. The Sublime is encountered and known by the me-self, and may only later be compartmentalized by the I-self. Porete is calling for constantly existing as the me-self so that the I-self never inhibits one’s perception of God with its earthly knowings and ties. The Sublime, like God, is unknowable by the I-Self, but may be encountered by the me- self, or by the base self.
Buck has me lean against a wall which he has covered in paper. A water fountain trickles in the darkened room, and zen-like wind instruments play from a hidden CD player.
He positions my feet shoulder-width apart, my arms straight, my fingers splayed. His wire-framed glasses slip down his nose as he traces my frame against the paper with a red Sharpie. Before this, I am told to draw an outline of myself on the same paper with a blue Sharpie.
I’ve seen this done on an HBO documentary about eating disorder treatment.
Buck finishes tracing, and we pull away to observe our markings.
He looks disappointed. He was expecting me to draw a balloon animal of a girl, swollen and comic, who would look like pillowy padding to his careful tracing. One girl inside of another, hollowed and the padded girl is not there. It is just the brittle frame of a not-quite-woman, standing alone, a single frame. The blues and reds overlap in most places.
I probably say something nasty to him, as I often do. At this time, I already see the whole world as a crock of shit, so when I come upon an actual steaming human embodiment of a literal crock of shit, I do not remain silent.
He asks me if my Social Distortion shirt has anything to do with my feelings: a dancing skeleton holding a martini and a cigarette.
I opt out of speaking, and envision myself poking his eyes out with my fingertips.
In group therapy, they put the Binge Eater in with us because they think we can all help each other. That between our diseases is a magical spot of sanity.
Her eyes are large and blue, framed in thick blonde lashes, but her skin is splotchy from all forms of glut. She is bursting out of her studded jeans.
She describes her binges without regret – whole boxes of Lucky Charms with 2% milk, In-N-Out four-by-fours with fries, and cases of Miller High Life.
I don’t even want to breathe the same air.
Buck folds his hands over his belly, leans back in his office chair.
There is a crumpled bag of nutter butters in his trash can and an empty ink cartridge.
I want to eat them both and vomit them onto him, sharp synthetic pieces coated in drool dropping into his lap to show him how much better I am at disease than he is at his job.
His chair squeaks.
He smiles and it’s like a scratched record.
He mentions my lack of progress. I mention his lack of mental capacity and formal credibility.
He asks if I’d like to take a yoga class in place of his and my private sessions. I’d like to staple my vagina shut four times a week in place of his and my private sessions.
My doctor since infancy feels my belly. He pushes organs, smaller now, but intact. I can feel them push back against his fingertips, intact. My mom sits in the pink cushioned chair as tears rope down her powdered cheeks. Word is, I’m dying. The wallpaper shows puppies in golf bags, soft-eyed, darling amidst the clubs.
Word is, Word is, Word is, Word is, Word is, Word is. Word is, Word is, Word is, Word is
my brother is sorry.
my mother forgives
me. boys don’t
like — blank — nothing
anything, presence nor
absence and neither
they’re all so sorry
or afraid and so tired
of being made
aware of so many
invisible chords struck
wrongly and soothed into
boundaries where skin
can’t quite reach
there is always time to apologize
to wrap back up
they can all love me better if
they’re not kept
scared. there are ways
to love myself
there are ways
i’ve been told, i keep
The Binge Eater had a name, but I don’t remember it. I blocked it like a nasty spill so it could never get absorbed. But without her name, I’ve still held on to her.
I know it’d be different if I met her now.
I’d be able to relate to her. How she attempts to find comfort and a shield in her body. Always desiring while simultaneously bracing for hurt, siphoning what bits of pleasure are available out of near-dry taps.
Using her body.
Shielding herself with her body.
Unwrapping herself by becoming only her body.
Or destroying her body to arrive at something else.
The night after my first electrocardiogram, I have a dream about Robert Smith from the Cure. We wear the same lipstick. We kiss and it feels like finger painting.
He tells me that there are ways to eat the sadness and not eat the self.
What he tells me makes sense, but when I awake, none of it translates into waking life. I burrow my little body into the down comforter, trying to hop back onto the dream like I’m chasing a moving train to find Robert Smith so he can tell me in a way that real life can shape into words, so I can shape it into myself.
I don’t fall back asleep, but I hear a voice, whispering from the core of my pillow: the answer is not in words.
Marcus, my then-twenty-year-old brother, with whom I’d shared a turbulent sibling relationship of physical conflict and verbal acridity, comes up behind me, on my spot on the sectional couch, and spoons me. His hands, now the size and shape of my dad’s, lightly squeeze my sunken empty middle, sore from the violence of sickness. He says nothing. It takes me a long time to get used to being held by him.
Word is. Word is. Word is.
Word is, I am going to die if I continue, which means, I am going to die.
But first, I will know something.
My mother finds the fifteen dollar book-like fashion magazines I’ve stolen from Barnes and Noble. She thinks they’re part of the problem. She thinks I want to look like the women in the pages. She thinks this is about wanting to be more visible, rather than wanting to disappear. I let her throw them out, saving the fight for something else.
The alien-faced models with legs longer than the pages were not any inspiration. All they were was proof that I could keep going further and still stand upright, at least for awhile. I could keep searching. I could keep unraveling.
Buck asks the Binge Eater what she likes about life that isn’t food.
She does not blink or pause. “Sex.”
Buck raises his eyebrows. “Sex.”
“Yes,” she says.
Buck’s eyebrows stay raised, and I feel like the Binge Eater and I share images of violence directed at this man who is capitalizing on our sicknesses for profit. I wonder if she imagines eating him whole, like an anaconda eating a child, inch by inch.
In therapy we repeat, we chant, “I have a body but I am not my body.”
I go back and forth between dismissing this, and believing it with my entire being. Then, at some point, I realize I don’t have to choose.
Stephanie Couey is an MFA poet and teacher at University of Colorado-Boulder. She is from Riverside, CA and Boise, ID.