I don’t even know how to say what I want to say about this poem.
But if there’s one thing about me, it’s that I’m gonna try.
LOVE AFTER LOVE
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
***Content Warning: Eating disorder***
I have taken care to avoid triggering words or images, but if this is a topic that you’re not up for today, maybe take the poem and keep it moving. And know you’re not alone.
I love with my whole heart.
Or want to, anyway.
And like every one of us here on earth, I tend to love how I was loved.
I was fed, plentifully, eagerly. I wanted for no meal. I peel oranges and recall having oranges peeled for me. Offered to me, ready. I share my clementines with joy, passing sweet, supple wedges from palm to palm, a prayer for my dear ones’ forever safety, that they may never hunger. Love often looks to me like a table spread thick with steaming plates and treats and sweets, multiple courses made with our beloveds’ delight and comfort in mind. I love the feast that love creates, when we bring what we have to offer, and are offered everything we could possibly need, and even want, in return.
Food, for me, is love.
For so long, it’s also been—in conspiracy with the clouds that sometimes move through my mind—an antagonist.
Two things can be true at once.
I have lived with an eating disorder most of my life. Statistically, this is true for someone else, and likely a few someones, you’ve cared for.
It has taken years of therapy, a few ill-fated experiments with medication, the slow, careful work of building a trusted support system, hundreds of pages of handwritten notes to myself not to mention the conversations I have to have with me, out loud, on a near daily basis, to reach what I guess we call recovery, a vast expanse that no doubt looks different to every one of us trying to build a home here.
It is not that I am recovered, here and now, forever. I am perpetually in recovery. Sometimes I backslide, or relapse, and every time I do, I learn new ways to get my head back above the water, and keep it there a little longer.
Food, for me, is complicated.
Statistically, this is true for everyone everywhere.
It is not lost on me that I can say food is love and acknowledge I have struggled with food. I have struggled with love. It seems I am human in that way too.
Poems have a way of changing shape on you.
I have read the poem Love After Love while nursing heartache, and have needed the reminder that there is—beyond that aching—possibility, a coming home to myself. All that love I’ve feared went to waste, a poem like this and many others remind me: that love is mine to keep. Every way I’ve learned to love has made my heart only bigger, stronger, more generous, and wise. I am grateful for these lessons.
Returning to this poem in the thick of recovery, however, was another animal entirely.
I read this poem now, and I do not think of lovers lost and the absence left in me, soothed only by the way time passes and broken hearts do heal. Now, reading it, I think instead of the many days I’ve struggled to accept my own love. How many times, not knowing what else to do with all these goddamn feelings, I have surrendered to my eating disorder, my most loyal, familiar friend, who happened to want me dead. Better the devil you know.
I think of what it’s like, now, to look in the mirror, and actually trust what I see. And love what I see: me, same as ever, but older. Softer. Longer hair. Older. Loving. Loved.
I read this poem now and see my recovery.
I see myself able to greet me as I am—imperfect, full of impossible feelings and struggling to make space for all of them, clawing my way through decades of shame and silent aching, and shining, even still. I see me listening to me saying, sit, my darling, sweet girl, sit and let this one be simple.
You are hungry. You will eat.
You will give thanks to the farmers who sowed the fields, the rains that blessed them and the hands that picked these oranges, and to your own for peeling them. You will learn to bake bread, even though you hate baking, because the way butter melts on fresh hot rolls, dear person, melts your butter. You will love feeding yourself, and not just others. You will nourish yourself so you can nourish others. You will feast, my loving, loyal friend, who has stayed with me all these years, who has seen me in my lowest hours, weeping on the floor, and helped me stand again. This is your life. Our life. The only one.
And you are plenty. Feast.
Here’s a poem-shaped note I wrote to me last year upon completing my first 5K in 10 years. It’s not very good, but it’s true.
to my body after the run
here is what i want to tell you:
how afraid i am to hurt you, having done it for so long.
how 3.1 miles is the most i've run since deciding i didn't want to hurt any more.
ah. here is where the boundaries blur.
your pain being my own, let's call it ours.
how during the first mile i listened to cicadas. smelled fresh-cut grass.
in the second met two puppies.
at the start of mile three, make me feel began to play.
you love when it does that. i love when we agree.
how when my friend i married cheered as the finish line approached me,
i knew already where we'd hurt tomorrow, and just as quickly, how we’d heal.
every day we take small steps toward who we need to be.
some days we run.
I love you always. Thank you for being here on earth with me.