An eating disorder can be a dead end or a door opening to a life better than you can imagine.

Click to read poems from Hunger Speaks

Report Card of Hunger, I and II
End of the Affair
Frog Song

Click to see and hear Carolyn Jennings read poems from Hunger Speaks

"I am not a poetry reader. I don't usually gravitate to poetry because I think it might be obscure, and I don't want to even try. Not so with this collection of amazing poems...They are potent, strong medicine that has stirred up emotions and memories and images from my past and my path."

a reader in recovery

Hunger Speaks unfolds in four sections. "Sugared Hush" reveals the days before treatment: disconnected and repressed, disjointed and in disorder. Here is a woman in exile from her own life.

by Carolyn Jennings

Gulp crackers, cookies, fistfuls from the cupboard,
curl into a cupboard, crave shelter.
Snap doors shut

on palms that push against my back,
prod me to be
someone else's good girl.

Cling to the yank of a different hand,
fist that pounds on the door, stuffs hushed mouth
with sweet sugared dough.

Across my face, this hand casts its shadow
cutting as shame
dark as a blindfold.

This hand hammers
the belly into a fist
handcuffed to chaos.

This hand cements
the learned choke of
cornered silence.

Can't see what anyone
could see: this hand
bears no flesh, only bones.

next poem

"By writing her own self into existence, Carolyn has created a safe mirror for any woman's struggling self to emerge whole and her right to own her own life. Caorlyn's words held my own journey through a harsh and frozen landscape out into the dawn of forgiveness and a reclaimed life."

a reader in recovery

"Bones of Silence" speaks what was ineffable—the traumas and taboos and all that feeds the eating disorder—in a voice overcoming fear and silence. Here is a woman arriving at speaking, being heard, and wanting more.

Report Card of Hunger, I
by Carolyn Jennings

Morning's aroma, coffee with chicory,
brewed just after the alarm wails. Creamy
warmth draws me into my day, second cup
to my desk, but the hug of coffee

never lasts long enough. I dwell in the next
cup, the best cup—outside, busy, busy—
delay to avoid jitters, then dive in
—inside purr—to tend the afternoon pot

and heat milk as its partner. As a child,
I hid behind mother's pretty skirts until
kindergarten's first tear-streaked days.
Imprinted on siblings' path of straight A's,

indentured to any rule—school, church, science fair,
hide and seek, I hid behind teachers' smiles
and father's lectures on how high marks would thrust
me into college, his thwarted dream,

and a profession of respectable
income like hard-won his—chaining me,
class whiz kid, to jitters on nights before any quiz,
a secret only my mother knew.

Weighted, small I, to earn smart for Dad
Weighted, small I, to please pretty for nuns.
Outside, I was parochial school's
red and gray plaid. I was a line of A's

marching down the right-hand side of report cards.
Only to what they set before me to eat was no
tolerated. So at the dinner table, picky eater,
I pouted and protested. Hungry later, I demanded or sneaked

sweets. Coating the throat of childhood were bitter
ashes from the brilliant fireworks of Carolyn
exploding inside unseen,
secret, even from me.

Report Card of Hunger, II
by Carolyn Jennings

Duncan Hines cupcakes soothed through afternoons
at the kitchen table, schoolbooks as companions
in the hushed house, math quizzes to come.
Corner-store chocolate bars tugged me oh, so sweetly

away from knowing enough, pleasing enough, never being
enough. Later came hormones, crushes on distant
seniors, and nights with girlfriends at The Pizza King,
then in Seventeen and gym locker rooms,

thighs, waistlines, complexions unlike my own.
I hid behind widening hips. Mother's diet
hints expanded the hole in my belly,
stress-cracks into fissures I fell. Later,

I became one student ID # among thousands,
companioned by nights of sleepless study, unnamed
demands with unseen fists, and the tiny dorm fridge
of an absentee roommate. I hid behind

running shoes unable to log enough miles.
Each dean's list and honor's award added height
to a platform shaking for collapse
with the next prof, paper, probe, all pushing up

toward a shiny career that held no inch
of me. One man saw—I believed—finally
loved me. I did not see to protect my self.
Alone among kind professionals, I aborted.

No grief allowed to befriend this logical
choice. Donut boxes gathered, stashed on closet
floor, mute as a tomb, among stylish shoes,
feet still striving to be pleasing and pretty.

next poem

"Carolyn Jennings shows us how, using the tools of writing, meditation, awareness practice and talk therapy, a recovery from eating disorder can be shaped from the same raw materials that gave rise to it. As a kind of promise, these poems demonstrate the gifts of integrity and voice, compassion and magnanimity that await those of us who choose to follow where she leads."

a reader in recovery

"Whisper in the Belly" offers minute scrutiny of behaviors and beliefs hindering recovery and of the process of learning a new language that speaks a future of freedom and functionality. This is the work of recovery. Here is a woman slowly gaining peace.

End of the Affair
by Carolyn Jennings

Delay home alone. Husband
away, business. When I arrive, loneliness

howls a welcome.
On its heels marches an urge,

a little late night snack,
an offer to ease

my empty bed. Tonight I choose to indulge
hollowness only. Confonted,

sadness dashes,
leaving behind long, scaly shadows:

cravings linger, whisper, charm, seduce,
beg, jab, rage.

I refuse this con
whose promise rings hollow,

gone tomorrow. I resign myself to be an old maid
this time.

Lament amplifies
as I abandon my dear hero,

forbidden pleasure,
food as comfort.

next poem

"Beginning with a hunger in the dark as I watch my lover sleeping, far off in a world where I have no voice, these stories took my hand and led me through the labyrinth of food and misguided love, of unspoken sorrow and forbidden words, to a place where borders begin to shimmer and 'problems dissolve like chalk drawings.'"

a reader in recovery

"Speaking Flesh and Stone" celebrates ecstasy in the body, mind and spirit, recounting breakthroughs into a full life in recovery. Here is a woman no longer victim of anything, but instead grateful for the illness because the awareness that recovery requires bestows upon her such riches of relationship and joy.

Frog Song
by Carolyn Jennings

In places wilder than home, creaks and groans
of frog song come to me: dusk to dawn
musicals in a monastary garden, fragments
through New Zealand rain, today

from the mountain marsh
down the path below the window
where I write, stepping stones back
into memory and forward into faith,

bridging the splinters of ache and trust.
Some amphibian vestige at the base of my spine
throbs along to their rhythm. Alone for days,
my pen and I let frogs dictate

poems. Uninvited, loneliness
crashes the party, cloaking herself
in her usual costume, a shove
toward kitchen cupboards. Not running

from the discomfort into the arms of food,
I listen to the song of my own
longing. I take loneliness
for a stroll. I hold her

shriveled hand. I kiss her damp forehead.
She clenches my heart. I am with her
and she is with me, twins now complete,
neither of us abandoned.

Cooling evening, damp trail, soft ground
cushion the fall of pain unclasping.
I could be a frog here, belly damp, sweet earth
just under my nose; the chorus of my kind

would be my stepping stones, notes in air.
"I'm not scared here," loneliness confesses.
"Neither am I," I say. I tuck her into
the chambers of my throbbing heart.

This was a poem first published in Journal of Poetry Therapy (March 2007) Vol. 20, No. 1, p. 60.
Journal of Poetry Therapy is available online at: