Written on the Body: Feet

It’s been a while since I last posted because I have really struggled to find something to write about feet.  There are hundreds of facts and ideas but none of them has really captured my imagination.

We speak of itchy feet, of feet born with the desire to travel.  But the feet in this are functional, getting us from one place to another; though the feet may itch, it is the heart (metaphor) and the brain (metaphor) that take us where we want to go.  In this sense, feet are not a metaphor but a tool.  Even when a person is said to have “two left feet” (i.e. being a bad dancer) the focus on feet is concrete in a way that reference to the other body parts I have looked at is not.  There are more metaphors about shoes, footprints, etc.  On that note, I do happen to have written a poem about shoes (kind of) which I will post here in lieu of an actual post about feet.

In Which I Inhabit Your Shoes

I inhabit your shoes.
They are hot as coals
and feel doomed to follow the same steps
again and again.  You inherited pain
and patterns you feel sure to repeat,
dancing that same dance, your feet
moving fast to that beat.

The cost of life is a loss
of blood, of knees in mud
contemplating the river.  Is eyes on tracks,
bringing back the sensation of
falling
and being caught- but that
was a long time ago.

Now even your shadow peels away from you,
afraid to grow up, even as you age
with the rage pent up
and threatening to swallow.

You relive.  You wallow.  Your need
expands, is an echoing hollow
that nothing can fill
and no one can feel
but you
though you cry for them to.

Your need
becomes a greed.  Your hunger
goes on long after it’s fed.

I inhabit your shoes.
They are heavy as concrete, as lead.

Written on the Body: Blood

Image result for blood images

I have updated my post on bone to include some paragraph type thoughts instead of just a poem.  Please take a peek if you happen to be curious about my thoughts on our longest-lasting body part!

Blood is one of the most metaphor-laden body parts, yet its metaphors/ connotations often conflict one another.  Blood is cleansing (blood of Christ, washes your sins) and yet unclean (curse of Eve, punishment for The sin).  Blood can represent relief or punishment.

Blood can also be a warning.  Warning signs are red—a quick Google search shows that they may be red simply because red stands out most clearly against a green background.  They may also be red because they represent fire and blood, both of which inspire fear in human beings.  Blood= pain= danger.

In Enoch Powell’s famous speech (officially “The Birmingham Speech” but commonly known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech), he said “as I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.””  This speech is now commonly accepted to have been a racist one, the metaphorical “river of blood” a consequence of (non-white) im/migration into the UK during the late 1960s.  Blood as a metaphor, in this case, evokes disgust and horror—not just at the idea of immigration, but at the state of a country in which, Powell described, the “ordinary Englishman” no longer wanted to stay.  Blood is a warning.  Blood is dangerous.  Blood is a marker of destruction.

Yet, brought up as a Catholic, I was also taught to imbibe blood on the weekly.  The wine of the Last Supper, representing the blood of Christ on the cross.  Transubstantiation means that the wine in the communion cup literally transforms into the blood of Christ at the moment of drinking.  This bamboozled me as a kid: we are literally drinking the blood of someone who basically wouldn’t have bled if it wasn’t for us?  Thinking about it, it’s still a bit of a puzzle now.  But there it is… blood is cleansing.  Blood is pure.  Blood has the power to heal us and absolve us of sin.

As with bone, the interest for me lies in the contradiction.

Poem to follow, please watch this space for updates.

Written on the Body: Liver

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My liver may be fucked but my heart is honest
(Passenger, Things that stop you dreaming)

For the ancient Greeks, the liver was the organ in closest contact with divinity.  They practiced something called hepatoscopy, which was the ritual sacrifice of oxen or goats, examining their livers to determine whether a military campaign would succeed or fail.

Hepatoscopy 

The flames lapped at the air, hot tongues
with no mouths, no heads, no bodies.
Outside the circle, her body lay bloodied,
incision turned skywards,
the shape of an eye, unseeing.
The liver, seemingly beating,
lay inside the circle by the fire,
surrounded by their feet.  It was full of blood
that itched towards the divine,
lit by fire, glistening, burning,
becoming still and dry.
From its remains they sought to reveal
the will of the gods, cutting it open to divine
the outcome of a marriage, a battle, a birth.
In the earth they left their markings
scorched and hardened by the heat
from passing thought into prophecy.
Meanwhile,  the goat lay open, just outside,
with eye-shaped cut and red, half-hooded eyes.

Written on the Body: Bone

Image result for funnybones

As you may know I am writing a series of posts inspired by the 2016 Mslexia writers’ diary.  Each post will focus on a body part.  Today’s theme is Bone.

Your skin,
Oh yeah your skin and bones
Turn in
to something beautiful
(Coldplay, Yellow)

Beneath our clothes, our skin, our fat, our muscle, we are 3D jigsaws of bone wrapped protectively around some organs.  Without these jigsaws, we would be masses of jelly sprawled out mostly motionless across the ground.  Our organs would be easy prey.  We wouldn’t last.  Insults like “spineless” or “no backbone” conjure images of people unable to hold themselves up, unable to stand up for what they believe in.  Strong bones are important not just literally but also metaphorically.  In metaphor, just as skin should not be thin, bone should not be brittle, fragile, lacking or weak.  Bone is what we are based on, so it had better be hardy.

Like our skin, our bones regenerate themselves.  Roughly every 7 years, we effectively replace each bone.  This fact surprised me on reading.  Bone seems like something constant.  When all else is gone, bones are the lasting part of us, the part that will lie in the earth undecaying for centuries.  We find the bones of dinosaurs, extinct mammals and human beings.  Bones survived the volcanic eruption at Pompeii.  We learn from the bones we excavate.

Because bones are the part of us that survives burial, bones also teach us about the rituals associated with death at any given time.  Bones show us where graves once lay, and the things alongside the bones (pottery, coins, jewellery) allow us to read into what meaning was associated with those graves.  We see elephants mourn over the bones of their own and we understand that for them, as for us, death is imbued with meaning.

Despite this, bones are also linked inextricably with life.  As they are constantly renewing, they require food and oxygen just as we do.  They are a living part of us and when we die, though they do not dissolve, they stop regenerating.  Bones arrested in time.  This is what is so fascinating about bones.  Their clues about deaths.  Their ties to life.  Their constant renewal contrasted with their longevity.

As I write these posts, I am finding that each body part, both in terms of real experience and in terms of metaphor, are ridden with contradictions.  This is what has captured my attention.

The poem below (under construction) attempts to suture the deadness of bone with the goings-on of life.  It really needs a revision (or seven) but, as they say, here are the bare bones of it.  Haha.

Bone

We whittled away at the bones, each day,
to make our toys: sharp fighting sticks
and pens to scratch the earth
to show we’d been.  Bone
created alibi, our signatures in dust
proved we must have walked
each patch of land.  Older,
I once asked my sister
to forge my sign, so I could ride from town
to meet my love.
We took up knives of bone, worn blunt
from overuse, our names entwined
against a tree as old and wise as bone
(but softer, and prone to decay).
And she whittled me a little coin
to wear around my neck
because I couldn’t stay.

Written on the Body: Skin

Image result for inside out boy

Inside-out Boy.  Anyone remember this cartoon?

Skin

Take everything you know
and write it on your skin
then you can carry on
and forget everything
(Newton Faulkner, Write it on your Skin)

We associate the heart with love, the brain with mind.  The liver was once associated with cowardice, the spleen with bad temper.  We have no such metaphors for the skin.  Though it is the first thing seen, the first thing touched, we don’t associate it with something intangible.  It is not a representative of a thing; it is the thing.

The skin protects us.  The sting of salt wind cannot pass its barrier.  It knits together and helps us to heal.  It takes the brunt of our mistakes, our trips and falls, and it pulls us through.  It forms scars to counter injuries, tissue thicker and stronger than what lies beneath. Skin renews every 28 days.  It sheds at a rate difficult to comprehend, leaving us in a constant state of renewal.

Yet the skin also betrays us.  It is the first thing noticed about us: its colour; its bruises; its scars.  It blushes and blemishes.  Blood vessels rising to the face create an undeniable image of embarrassment, heat or anger.  The skin allows this to happen.  It allows for scars to be a different colour.  It allows for a bruise to burn blue.  These things beg questions and it is for us, not for the skin, to answer these.

The skin is vulnerable.  It is susceptible to cuts.  Sharp trauma to its surface, permitting blood to fill the sudden gap.  It may be an act of protection but the skin does bruise.  Its cells can grow cancerous.  It is always in the process of dying.

Yet the skin is hardy. It is always in the process of battling: battling the sun, our misfortunes, the acid in the rain.  It fights for us against things we could not fight ourselves.  In general, the skin pulls through.  It is a fighter, after all.  It borders on invincible.

 

Poem (under construction)

Skin

My skin bears the marks
not of sin but survival.  She calls me
her tiger, with markings to rival
the fighters of the wild.

I’d been thinking, since I was a child
I was fighting with skin.
Now I realise my battle was never with it
but within.

She traces the part of me
constantly dying, or,
constantly being born anew,
soft between the scars.

Now I know that their burden is not mine
nor hers, but ours.