Jessica Poli
| poetry


My therapist tells me that the stomach
holds most of our feelings. She doesn’t mean
what goes into it, but still I start to dream up
a feast of joy inside my gut. Spinach,
artichokes, oranges slowly peeled in the morning,
lavender tea and honey, cardamom. My list grows
while she leads me through a breathing exercise.
She says Picture a place where you feel calm,
and I’m walking down the grocery aisle, past the milk,
pulling a pack of probiotic yogurt off the shelf.
She looks like she eats green smoothies and citrus,
and I think of the lemons molding in my fridge,
turning white and mushy, caving in gently around
one particularly soft crater. What have I fed myself
lately? Olives and oily fish, burnt toast, nervousness,
soup. I ate octopus once at a Greek restaurant
in New York where I drank too much wine
and had to unbutton my jeans after my stomach
swelled over them. My therapist and I don’t talk
about my body, except in the sense
that I live in it. Years ago, I ate magic mushrooms
on an empty stomach and three hours later I knew
I was going to die. Even after I didn’t, I wasn’t
convinced—thought it was only a matter of time.
I didn’t eat for days, afraid I had damaged something deep
inside of me. This, too, I have never told her—
not about the mushrooms, or driving six hours
that week to see my parents because I wanted, secretly,
to say goodbye. Maybe this is what she means
about the stomach. That it holds only
what it’s capable of, and refuses the rest.


Jessica Poli is the author of Red Ocher (University of Arkansas Press, 2023), which was a finalist for the Miller Williams Poetry Prize. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Bite Inhibition