Melissa Joplin Higley

Starfish Bodies Aren’t Bodies At All

They’re essentially just giant heads, without blood
or brains. At age thirteen, I had my first migraine.

I lost my peripheral vision and walked into a parked
car at the mall, banging my stomach into its fender.

Starfish spit out their stomachs through their mouths
to engulf and digest their food. That year, in 8th grade,

our health science teacher warned us about eating
disorders, and we worried who might fall prey.

Evolving over time, starfish lost their torsos
after the essential organs moved into their arms.

No one explained to us the difference between
fasting and starving. Either one will make the torso

disappear. When only a head is left, there is too
much time to think about things, like how after

too many years fasting in dysmorphia, a dancer
friend chose to starve instead. These spiny stars

can choose any direction, unencumbered by knowing
their bodies aren’t bodies at all.


We called it chemo brain—forgetting the names
of people, places, familiar objects, like when
turning from the coffee press to the cabinet and

recognizing the thick-handled ceramic shape,
I still couldn’t find the word cup. Back then,
I assumed the loss was temporary. Now, I know

better, and I think maybe I don’t need memory
to work so precisely. Maybe, I can let it fill in
around me like the tide that, these days, washes

over the harbor seawall, up the grass, under
the benches, and I remember when I sat there once
at low tide, watching the resident great blue heron

stand erect in the shallows, body like an upright
torpedo, head tipped down, eyes trained on
the shimmering surface for a flash of silverside,

parting her beak like chopsticks, and in a flash
of her own, speared the fish straight through
its glimmer, tossed it into the air like a coin and

caught it head-first, stretching her gullet before
each slow gulp, while the bulge moved down
until it disappeared, and she was satisfied.

My memory pools something like that tide
of blurred gray-blue, of what’s-already-
happened, occasionally glimpsing silver-sided

details darting to and from. Sometimes, I can
fish them out, say their names, swallow each
silver segment as morsel.

MELISSA JOPLIN HIGLEY is the author of First Father (Bottlecap Press). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, Feral, MER, The Night Heron Barks, Sleet Magazine, Whale Road ReviewWriter’s Digest, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and co-facilitates the Poetry Craft Collective.

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