Self Portrait with Mealworm

Mrs. Ripa hands out mealworm larvae
for us to parent into darkling beetles.
Goldenrod inches, they squirm and climb

in clear plastic cups—their inadequate
forests. I decorate mine with the best
needles of grass and evergreen blades

in Bethesda. I name my mealworm
Nelson, write our names on his habitat
in permanent ink—chiseled capital

letters. We learn what it means to molt.
That to grow, our mealworms will shed
their exoskeletons ten times—or even more. I touch

my nose to Nelson’s as other kids squeal,
Gross. He is on my desk, I forget
he exists, set my box of crayons down with a faint

crunch I feel more than hear. His head
wobbles like television static, a glitching
animation. I shove the murder weapon

in my backpack, throw away my self
portrait in progress, sit hunched, monstrous,
aware for the first time of the ways I am

too large. The casualty of my hands.
No one warned me that I am capable
of killing, of the pieces I can kill within

myself. Everyone else’s mealworms hatch
with sepia bodies, a sturdy ugliness. It’s
the year I learn to hate my own body, the flesh

of my thighs and how they squish out more than Brittany’s
when we sit in the backseat of her mom’s van. My buckled
burden of soft torso and flawed limbs. I want

to be measured in inches, small and segmented.
Instead, I am crushed by a schoolboy’s
indifference. I mouth metamorphosis

in my mirror, promise her I will discard
this self for someone who will be enough.
I don’t know it yet, but I will spend the next

two decades dissecting myself to fit
into standards: kill my appetite with Adderall, binge
read gossip magazines, train my shoulders

to shrink. I will shed over 423 skins
of my own before I look at my reflection
and do not feel contained.


Miriam Kramer is a queer, Jewish poet residing in New Jersey with her partner and two cats. Her poetry has appeared in Vulnerary Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, Rogue Agent Journal, and others. She has published two chapbooks and is working on a full length collection. Miriam has read poems to friends and strangers in many parking lots and established venues across the US.

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