What It Is, What It Is Not 3/3/18
Grizzly Adams and Nakoma ceremoniously stroked a knife along their palms and held their wounds together to unite them, blood into brothers, and we remembered that. One day my maternal cousin Zoe and I asked my mother to prick our fingers with a pin so we could do the same. We sealed our love officially that way, mingling tiniest dots of metallic red to symbolize a bond misrepresented until this moment, by title of cousin. She was the sister I’d longed for. She lived here now. My touchstone. In ten years time, she (not my mother) would be the one I called when I was breaking apart again-- she would get on a train to New York to help as I miscarried, she would take me in when I had no place to live and drank deep into the night every night, so lost. Some thirty years later she'd be the one I'd text in the dark when I wanted to die, the one I called when everything was caving in. She would send me a postcard with a picture of Tony Morrison on it framed on my wall now, and one with Alice Walker, her writing on the back so diminutive and careful it worried me. She would go on to fight: for school, for money, for more than one career, for her children. Everything to come would be good because she’d make it so, but there would be many things that took more than gave. She though, would keep giving and not give up, her body stalwart; indelibly fused, merged and related to mine. For now, in this snapshot, this flit across the screen, two little girls giggle and wipe at their fingers and sit on the couch together satisfied, real sisters now, breathless.
What It Is, What It Is Not
Despite innumerable advances, the body holds in its grip more questions than we can possibly answer. It is two things: shockingly strong and shockingly fragile. It can create another body or destroy one. It can convert, contain, expel, transmute, transfigure, transform. It can whither. It can expand and grow bulky, respond to the quickening of lust and love with dilation, elevation, swirls of chemical collision. It can delight, it can destroy. It can eat other things, it can eat itself, it requires fluid, it is made of fluid, it is salt, is brine, is water formed under tension, is tensegrity. It is not linear, is not like a building, is not like machine, does not have hinges, does not even really have joints. There is nothing separate in a body, all of it contiguous: muscles, gristle, cotton candy fascia, bones and cells the deconstruction of which has been required for discovery. The very study of our bodies has necessitated partitioning, dissecting, bifurcating, separating, plucking each instrument away from orchestra to see how it sounds. But we are whole systems. A humbling edict to heal is no match for the bawdy chaos, chaotic beauty that is our body. It’s a surfeit of words like we have in English; a deep trunk of language borrowed and mined from all sorts of others for countless choices, options and routes for explicating. Only a few are usually employed. Hundreds of words we rarely use: they exist only as possibilities. Choose your own adventure. The body. Like that. We prune and prune neurons so that by three years old we’re clipping back an apogee of neuronal potential. More than we use. The body is composed mostly of untapped, mysterious, granular, rule-bending, uncharted territory, is it not?
She’s every bit of mother to my son as I, caring for him since he was six months old, an angel, a motherly person to me too, the one who tells me I’m doing well with this impossible job. Every photo she takes of him is open-mouthed smiling joy. She grapples with illness, the chronic sort-- told me today she now needs hearing aids in both ears and insurance doesn’t cover it. No kind of insurance. Because it’s a lifestyle choice, they say. She goes further and further into debt because she’s sick, as if that’s not enough. There’s been cancer and grief and cascade-effect body-part breakdowns so I’m sure she feels betrayed, bewildered by the body she can’t exactly count on other than to waver. I’m comforted by her faith, her church, that community buttressing her. But this. Now a salivary gland needs surgery. Teeth, jaw, eyes, prism glasses, one thing after another, a slow dismantling and rearranging, like teetering Jenga blocks, mosaic shards. We need her. A lot of people love her. She’s living in a body (temple, chrysalis, corpus, chassis, collection of molecules, coalescence of energy) I wish I could fix. I wish I could make the world in which our bodies exist, fair.