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“strange hungers” by Sofia Ezdina

“strange hungers” by Sofia Ezdina

Trigger warning: Eating disorders.

They said: Why does she take everything in her mouth.

Me, age three. Crawling on the floor, pretending to be a bear. 
Found something, not edible. Immediately launch it into my jaws. 

They said: She is a picky eater. 
I could find no fondness in my heart: for sweets, for meat, 
for soups and porridge. I am herbivore; 
of all parental offerings, I accept only fruits 
and apple juice. 

You’ll get sick, Mom said. 
Spit it, now. 

Watching The Land Before Time. The dinosaurs sought their paradise, where the food is plenty, and the danger no more. A vivid image of Littlefoot trying to eat the pentagonal leaf. It looks like a star. Waterdrops slide over it, to the centre, glimmering silver. We have never seen 
something this delicious. Thirty minutes later, Stegosaurus Spike happily masticates grass, like it is the tastiest thing in the world. Fourteen films, and the heroes are always chased by hungry predators. I understand, quite clearly, that Velociraptors, too, are starving.

I took my toy dinosaurs, and they started their great journey. Seeking paradise, they always talk about danger and not having enough food.

I am the crocodile who swallows the clockwork. It has never stopped ticking. It’s ticking now.

They wonder whether I’m eating enough. 

*

At nine years old, I came to the conclusion that people make too much fuss about food.
Too unnecessary; 
so I decided to eat leaves and flowers. 

This is how the ancient men lived; how men are supposed to live. 

Throw food in the toilet, while nobody is watching, or sneak it from home, to feed the stray animals. The dogs, the rats, the crows. They will crown me their queen. The queen of scavengers. 

I brought them the tribute, like my parents did me. 
Unlike me, they appreciated the offering. 

On the street, I pick clover heads. Pluck it, like a bird, and eat. 
My experiment has lasted for a week. 

I imagine how the clover germinates roots and sprouts inside me, through the heart.

I am the behemoth wolf, unchained, who swallowed the sun. 
It suffused my bosom with golden light. 

*

Age fifteen. I am the ugly fat girl; tomboyish, to not be considered as such. I saw the Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya: it awoke something I could not yet recognize. 

In the myth, Kronos gulped his children whole. 
Here, he is chewing. 
In the myth, they were newborns. 
His teeth dripping red. 
Drip, drip, drip.

Later I found myself coming back to it, feeling something. This sensation hadn’t left; it stuck – something I wasn’t yet able to put into words but firmly imprinted upon my brain.

I gnaw my nails. 
When I’m focused, 
when I’m nervous. 
They are always gnawed to the plate. I scratch my face, and nibbled nails edges leave uneven ragged traces upon the skin. 
When I cry too hard, I dig my teeth into the wrist and clench them until the physical pain from the bite becomes heavier than my heart.
They say, one day I will damage my face so badly it will never recover. They say it will stay disfigured forever. I already am ugly fat girl, 

what else have I to fear.  

I am a whale, who swallowed Jonah. 
I am Jonah, swallowed by a whale for his defiance. 

*

The first year of university. History, classical studies. I wrote my graduation thesis. “Cannibalism in Greek Myths.” Professorate of ancient history department chuckles: “Exotic theme. Rather infernal.” They cannot hide it: they’re quite unsettled by my area of expertise. 

One should write about cannibalism in the dining rooms and canteens: 
         where it’s crowded, 
         where it’s stuffy, 
         where they eat a lot and ugly. 

I watch them, and I write. The cap of the pen was covered with many small notches: I nibbled it often and habitually. When I write, I bite my lower lip for concentration. Passion, 
which has become a habit:
lips were chewed no less than a cap.

I decided to lose weight. 
Fast. 
High-protein diet. Close to no carbohydrates.

My case of dermatillomania worsens. Hands do not give me rest, so I scratch, and scratch, and scratch, my face and my neck. I scratch and gnaw my nails. I failed to notice how I started to eat torn particles of skin. Disgusting. I am disgusting. 

I cried too hard, so I let the blood run. It tasted sweet when licked.

I am Prometheus; bound, unbound, bound forever, punished, shrugged.   
          Birds are eating my liver.  
          I long to unleash my fangs.

*

The history of cannibalism is a history of casualties; from the very moment in the early Paleolithic when for the first time Homo antecessor hid in a cave amidst the Atapuerca mountains from the raging outside cold and discovered that they had nothing to eat. Among the bones of animals, the bones of humans laid; human bodies were cut, bones were cracked to extract the brain in the same way as animal ones, and then dumped into one large garbage heap. No rite, no sacrality; just people eating people, simple as that. 

First, humans were scavengers, pitiful creatures. Like dogs, like rats, like crows. Eating up after the big cats’ feasts. We should be thankful for that: the first impulse for their brains to grow bigger and their bodies more muscular and their digestive system compact. Meat is a rich nutrition, and brain is expensive and hungry device. They became smarter and made up for lack of biological tools for killing. Oh, what was the sweet shake when they tasted blood for the first time. 

I’m filled with the chlorinated sense
          of non-presence,
          of non-participation 
          when one carries within 
          not dearth, not starvation, and certainly
          not hunger – 
          but great famine. 
Raising it to default, destroying any other state of being, anything unrefined; turn into bones with the body, with the heart and mind.

You will poison yourself, Mom said. 
I am poison. 
I am Limos, whose stomach only a void.

*

The soul is in the blood, in the heart, in the brain, in the liver. 
Blood is the bearer of the soul: 
you drink it, 
soul will enter your body. 

It comes out of the wound: “Through the gaping cut the soul left hastily; and his eyes were covered with darkness,” Homer said. Odysseus descends to Hades and with blood revives the souls of the dead to talk with them.

(anyone dropped blood on the sand? – swift, spitting,
sobbing, bursting, overlapping – loses colour, but is
preserved by the signet, without decay. I want to tear,
I want to gobble up, I want to cut into pieces.
I want to smell iron. I want to try blood.)

Blood is also a carrier of certain qualities of its owner. Eater of raw meat gains these qualities. You ate a bear, and you become strong as a bear; you ate a hare, you become quick as one. So Polyphemus wished to eat Odysseus’s tongue to receive his cunning; so Zeus swallowed Metis to obtain her wisdom. Taste the meat that seems sacred, for through this meat you will become the god consumed. 

          You are both eater and eaten.   
          Devourer and devoured.  
          One who hungers and one who quenches hunger.

It’s always a ritual, a sacrifice; and with it — the control. Anthropophagy is not exactly productive for the community, so it needed to be regulated. Thus the sporadic cannibalism was supplanted with rite: the wonderful rationalization through irrational. 
Man-eating is less horrible
when it’s divine. 
And also less accessible.  

When you burn the sacrifice on the pyre – you treat gods, hungry, greedy gods, who need human sustenance.  And the sacrificed man from the sacrificed animal is a little different. 

          You will never feed the god 
          with something you won’t eat yourself.

It felt wrong. Perhaps they were uncomfortable with the idea. They tried to erase the memory of man-eating, to refine the past, to clean it.
Soon, the gods would forget. 
Not all: 
          Ares will remember.
          From distant, angry Thracia, he will always remember.
         And the Lycia, the stones in Lycia, drowned in gore,
         will be the last to forget. 

Now it was monsters. Criminals were thrown into the labyrinth of the Minotaur; Lamia abducts and devours children; Lestrigons strung Odysseus’ companions on harpoons like fish; The Sphinx eats those who cannot solve her riddle; gorgons tear a man to pieces with their copper hands and drink his hot blood.

Now it was monsters,
and they longed to be punished and defeated.  

*

The vilest dreams are about falling teeth and about pregnancy. I try to push my teeth back, but they crumble between my fingers, cut the gums to the blood. I try to kill the foetus by beating myself and mauling; I beg to get this out of me before it is born.

Both are ugly. 
Both connected to consumption. 


          (I would eat the word “tuberculosis”. It sounds like a
          raw liver that has not been thawed and from it a dull,
          dank draft in the ileum.) 

Every night, I tear the backs of my hands into a sloshing puddle of blood. The puddle is a small ocean, and the ocean keeps its secret deep inside, and devours anything it finds poor. Many monsters are marine, or descent from sea gods.
Ocean is hungry too. 

By morning, the pain feels like tearing off the half of the body grown overnight, again. Perhaps, I’m a big ephemera fly that fish with a human face eats every day. 

In a half-sleep, I gnawed my hand to the tendons. 
Don’t eat me, big fish, leave me alone,
I want to wake up tomorrow, 
today.

I am the daughter of Minyas, crazed, craving for human flesh;
drawing lots: whose children to kill.   

*

There is a phenomenon in astronomy called galaxy cannibalism. When two systems spin close enough, the heavier, with stronger gravity, starts to pull the other closer. They can dance for a long time, but the bigger galaxy slowly absorbs the lesser one, until it consumes it whole. 

Everything in space exists within this process. 
The stars, the galaxies, the black holes. 
They live with a rhythm of hunger: as long as they thrive, they pull and consume; 
          eating is their method of knowing.
         Except for the moment of death;
         they devoured too much and went 
         with colossal explosion, resulting in supernova.  

*

It is poetically beautiful; the hungry stars, who swallow something so grand, yet so wonderful, who swallow of their kind, only to die, and be reborn again, as something new, even more grand, more wonderful.
Being devoured is certainly a death, but a special one. What is devoured will never be buried; it will have no bones and will know no rot. It will turn to the nourishment, to energy, for the world, for the other living being; from solid to soil. It’s a cycle: everything is consumed, and everything consumes. For stars, the process is even purer. Almost divine. 

The stomach is close enough to womb, to consider the same place be the first cradle and the last grave.

I am a star, who would swallow anything my light touches. 

*


         I am hungry. 
         as dinosaurs, 
         as stars, 
         as ocean, 
         as ancient gods, 
         Old things have strange hungers, they say.  

*


         I eat.
         I swallow, photographing the taste and colour. 
         Lips peeled back, cracking.
         I taste nothing. I try to hold back the cry.

Gnaw, gnaw. The word: “gnaw”. It sounds like a thing only rats do. Flesh is not glory.

My face is a battlefield, the aftermath of the nuclear strike. I tear, I ripe, I stripe. It’s a shame I cannot bite it, cannot eat my face whole. I would bark the skin, disfigured, reddened, ugly skin. I would eat it and wear the exposed flesh as a new face.  

I eat; I eat, 
biting off more than I can chew, 
as much as I can put into my mouth, 
into my stomach. 
The stomach can’t handle it and pours all back. Body is only lying. 

(Body never lies) 

Oh, a long time ago, the rats had crowned me their queen. Look at me now.  They must be proud. 

I am Lycaon, howling at the moon at night, 
as the flood arrives.

*

They say, that what I’m turned into is bulimic. The consumptive eater. 
I feel intensively unhappy – 
so I eat, to deafen the pain and keep my heart beating. 
To feel even more miserable after. 

Eating is, by all means, therapeutic. Eating is comforting. Eating is a cheap and easy source of serotonin, a simple unit of happiness. If you could break happiness to atoms, to the smallest components, all what’s left will be serotonin. Left will be yearning, the emptiness of mind, and sweet unknowing of death. 


         Anorexia wastes away the body. 
         But the body protests and tries to soothe its pain
         with devouring.  

A candle is something that gives off warmth. It is brought to life with a spark and burns away its own body until nothing remains. In that respect, 
          it’s not very unlike a star. 
          It’s not very unlike me.

Listen to the pains and guess which will cause death. I feel sick of the attempts of relatives to console me and feed me with love, which I simply cannot digest, because my heart is flaccid, defective, weak.

Sometimes, when the sound of alarm clock abates, I still hear the Saturn dripping. Drip, drip, drip.

I wonder if I could eat myself and come back to prenatal peace of mind. 

*

wamble it is, griping it does. exude from each hole, leaking from pores, blood, and odour. lungs are in my acid, i pass clots of my organs onto the filthy ceramics. drink, i thought, and i drink, i lap. i am thirsty, so thirsty. it murmurs inner me, my teeth crumble and scatter like rats in the dark. i cannot find them all, pick what i can, shove them back into my grey gums with my fingers but the nails are all shaky and falling out

drink, i says, it’ll help the running of the hunger. it rumbles in my ears like a roof covered with metal from a hurricane wind. i vomit and vomit: food from the stomach, tears from the eyes, heat from the pores, and inside, too, vomited, blackness into blackness, and there was more of it. 

*


          god, how can human smear so much blood and still live?

*


         You think you can fill the void of unhappiness inside you?
          I am Ouroboros, biting my own tail.
         You think you can drown your loneliness? 
          I am Erysichthon of Thessaly, cursed, eating myself of greed.
         You think you can fill the emptiness? 
          I am Tantalus spreading the feast with a stew of my own son.
         You think you can quench it? 
          I am Atreus, who fed his brother with the flesh of his children.
         You think you can appease your grief?
          I am Thyestes, who ate it.


         Seeking pain and wounds and loss and punishment, 
         as if it would soothe the burning sores in your heart. 
         You think performing an act of self-butchery will calm
         your yearning?

          Why had you been trying to silence it, to mute — or even
         mutilate it?
          Shame; guilt; repulsion for own body;
         revenge on yourself will be no use to anyone;
         Why should you punish yourself like this?

It becomes a part of me, gives contact, embraces, shares my flesh and blood. It is a companion of sorts, who can bring whatever I might need: health or pain, purification or damage, perversion or pleasure. It’s a conversation, direct communication with life: you commune with your pain and lull it to rest. 

The Greeks tried to escape it, too. They sleep now, in the depths of history, beneath the two centuries of marble and scholar disputes. 
         
         I am Orestes, who redeemed the house that spilled blood.

Perhaps, one day, the clockwork will finally stop ticking. 
Perhaps, the Saturn will drip no more. 
Perhaps, one day when some memories will fade, I will cease to feel like a victim of devouring and I will live, not as a dehiscing wound, but as a normal person again.

You look like a monster, they said.
Of course, I do.
This is what I am.
This is what I’ve always been.


Sofia Ezdina is an emerging writer from Russia, queer woman and close acquaintance of eating disorders.

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