25th Day of National Poetry Month – “Thin Birthday”

Birthday Grapefruit

25th Day of National Poetry Month, and my 25th draft poem of the month.  As those following this blog know, I am writing a draft poem every day this month, and I sincerely hope that some of you are inspired to also try some drafts.

The following poem has a rhyme scheme I just made up;  I suppose it could be considered a modified (and much less musical) terza rima.  The stanzas are three lines, with the first two lines of each stanza rhyming as a couplet, and the third line rhyming with the third line of the next stanza:  AAB, CCB, DDE, FFE, GGH, IIH.  (It makes more sense if you look at the poem, although, because many of the rhymes are slant rhymes, it may not make that much more sense!)

Thin Birthday

On one birthday when she was very thin,
he brought out, after much whispering,
a half-grapefruit set upon a platter.

It was their birthday cake platter–wooden,
painted with blue ribbon swirl, holes put in
careful spaces along its perimeter.

The lone half grapefruit balanced in the place
for cake; a pink candle centering its face
like a faded, twisted cherry, stretched out tall.

He looked at her with such worry, not
(she thought) for her condition, but to please.  What
to give a child stuck in rigid refusal?

She’d disdain cake, she’d groan (he knew), oh Dad.
So, for her to weep, to get so very sad,

was quite unfair.  I wanted to give you

something you would take, he said, as they sat
out in the car and he awkwardly pat
her arm, reaching for something flesh and true.


(This poem was posted some time ago, but I’m linking it today, May 31, 2012 (the day before my birthday in fact) to Imperfect Prose, hosted by Emily Wierenga, who’s publishing a book on anorexia.

Since this original post, the poem has also been published in my book of poetry, “Going on Somewhere,” by Karin Gustafson, available on Amazon.   Check it out!!!!

(As always, all rights reserved.)

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25 Comments on “25th Day of National Poetry Month – “Thin Birthday””

  1. David Feldman Says:

    This one is perfect on the first try. Well except maybe for the title. I’d prefer a title that could also serve as a caption for the picture, something like “Grapefruit with one birthday candle”. So, an image, a mystery. For me “Thin Birthday” puts the poem in a box marked “Case Closed” and thereby moderates the poem’s emotional immediacy.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Thanks. Good point. I agree it’s not a good title. I was thinking of Spare Birthday, which didn’t seem right because of the idea of spare as in extra, and now Sparse Birthday. Maybe Grapefruit With Candle. And you are right. I have a tendency to over-explain, which “Thin Birthday” feeds right into.

      Thanks again for following, and thanks so much for making effort to meet up. Sorry for the disorganization–we were both a bit sick, and traveling with dog always entails some delay (though she’s terrific.)

    • manicddaily Says:

      Also, may change the “somehing” in last line. Hadn’t paid attention to the repetition. Maybe “the flesh and true” is enough rather than the “something flesh and true.”

  2. David Feldman Says:

    Concerning “something”: The repetition didn’t bother me. Of course a word like “something” might seem a mere place holder, but only read as rooted in the authorial voice. But in this poem I think its very vagueness actually served your characterization: the father quite doesn’t know what to do for his daughter, and also doesn’t know what he needs from his daughter. The repetition linked these uncertainties, and so seemed to have a point.

    Anyway I am interested in how you think these things through, so I waited a day, trying to convince myself of your wisdom here. But I find the “the flesh and true” emphatic in a way the overly resolves the emotional uncertainties. Of course I don’t know whether you’ve invented this episode or based it on autobiography. And either way, I don’t know whether the episode represents a turning point (which the change suggests), or merely a characteristic moment (which the original suggests). Given that, I don’t really have a sense of which is right, or better, just that the pivot really does change the story.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Hmmm…. I may change it back! It was pretty early in the day when I changed it. I liked the definiteness of “the”, but I agree that the last “something” has a tentativeness that fits the character better.

      I’ll certainly think about it.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Okay, I changed it back!

  3. Jingle Says:

    interesting title, bravo.

    juicy and funny words.
    thanks for sharing…


    • manicddaily Says:

      Thanks! It is a draft from last year’s national poetry month, but I sent it, thinking of your subject of survival. K.

  4. The sketch is adorable and now that I’ve seen it I can’t imagine the poem without it. It’s a tender accompaniment to the father’s love. It surely must hurt him to indulge her, even if for this one day – but I’ve never heard of a kid who likes grapefruit!

  5. brian Says:

    nice..i like the story in the poem…for me the last stanza is a little clunky…pat is a bit forced and odd read…and flesh used between father and daughter leaves me a creepy feel…the rhyme scheme sets a cool rhythm to this…hope i did not overstep bounds on the crit…

    • manicddaily Says:

      No, no, not at all. I’m happy to have criticism. It is a bit clunky! Pat is meant to be clunky and awkward. But I do appreciate the flesh note. It’s meant to be flesh in the context of thinness, anorexia, but it is interesting to hear that side of it.

  6. Happy 25 and such a wonderful piece this is an interesting title and funny thanks for sharing

  7. Sheila Moore Says:

    this is a bit melancholy yet also touching in that the father is trying to accept and love her for who she is – anorexia and all. I liked the write. nice job.

  8. Hi Manic…. I like David’s idea of the title of “Grapfruit with a Single Candle”, but your title worked well too because my first thought upon seeing it, even before I read the entire first stanza, was anorexia. But the other title does match your cute image and the title is cute too. Brian’s point about the father reaching for his daughter’s flesh is undeniable. I would absolutely remove that, it literally sent chills up my spine and took me out of the wonderful world I had just escaped to just a moment before… It really took me right out of the beautiful place you painted for me….. but a terrific read about a very serious problem…. As the father of two teenaged girls I prepared myself for that possibility, luckily it never happened….

    • manicddaily Says:

      Thanks. I don’t know. It’s very interesting to hear the comments on the “flesh” because it never struck me that way–thinking flesh and blood and flesh as just some meat on the bones. It really had no sexual connotation for me at all, so interesting to hear and think about.

  9. Laurie Kolp Says:

    You have so beautifully painted a vivd and very real picture of not only the girl, but the effects of anorexia on loved ones. Thanks for leading me here, and I’m so glad you shared!

  10. I love the awkward and sad held within this poem of thin and reaching. There can be so little there and still it feels like oceans separate.

  11. this was so poignant and sad and accurately captured the loneliness felt in an eating disorder (through the grapefruit, and the awkward patting)… i would love to re-post this at my eating disorders blog sometime, if you’d let me? (http://www.chasingsilhouettes.com) if so, could you email it to me? wierenga.emily@gmail.com. thank you so much. e.

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