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Before Karen Carpenter Added Anorexia to the Lexicon

“and we drank the silk milk of her voice / watched her body thin on prime-time Saturday night”

Published onNov 01, 2020
Before Karen Carpenter Added Anorexia to the Lexicon


she brought us “yesterday once more” minus the hi-fi,
and we drank the silk milk of her voice,

watched her body thin on prime-time Saturday night  
admired the way her sharpening shoulders pleated

the grosgrain ribbons on made-for-tv pastel dresses.
Our 60’s sisters left us for LSD and a Summer of Love,

a loss we girls grieved in the asylums of our Barbie
Dream houses, in the silence of our mothers’ disapproval.

We were not our sisters strung out in San Francisco,
not our mothers.  We would not be spiceless nuts

and sweet mints tossed lightly on bored plates
at afternoon teas, would not be girdled quiet.   

We kept our sisters’ short skirts, shagged
our mothers’ beehives, shaved our bikini lines.  

Karen sang, “Let me be the one you turn to,”
and we did, gluttonous for our own voices 

pitched in bodies pinched so thin we could slide
into the slimmest curve or crack, bodies mirrored

in the gloss of Vogue and Seventeen selling us 
Lard B Gone, Maxi Slim, Dexatrim, Slim Fit,

Lucky Strikes, and Virginia Slims, a hundred times
a hundred ways to erase ourselves with pineapple

and Atkins, Scarsdale, and egg whites, our faces 
like those toothy teenagers in the Gerber ads 

holding jars and spoons telling us not just for babies, 
Chicken with Mixed Vegetables pureed for lunch,

Pears & Bananas for dessert, balanced blends 
easy to swallow, too bland to vomit.  We bought it all

had “only just begun to live” when Karen, all “white lace
and promises” left us end-stopped, bone thin.  Hungry.

Janet Reed is the author of Blue Exhaust (FLP, 2019), and a multi-year Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web nominee.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sow’s Ear Review, Emry’s, Tipton Poetry Journal, and others. She began writing knock-off Nancy Drew stories on wide-lined notebook paper at age 11, taught writing and literature in a community college until retirement and is currently enrolled in an MFA program in Creative Writing at University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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