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: Liver

images

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.

Written on the Body: Intro

In the marriage of flesh and spirit, divorce is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that the marriage is necessarily happy or successful.  So many of us are not in our bodies…
Gabrielle Roth, Maps to Ecstasy

 

This year, the theme of the Mslexia Diary was The Body.  Each month centred on a different theme, from the skin to the heart. I have decided to write a series of posts based on each section of the diary, focussing in each post on a different aspect of the human body.  Mine, or anyone’s.  The diary has helped me to be in my body.  Roth also writes that “we live outside ourselves… absentee landlords of our own estates” (Maps to Ecstasy).  Since January, I have been trying to really feel my body; what does my skin feel?  My heart?  My liver?  Both in terms of metaphor and of tangible, solid experience.

My first blog post will be on the skin.  I have decided to see where each theme takes me, whether to stream-of-consciousness, poetry, or article.  So what’s it about?  I don’t know yet.  But I’ll find it by tracing the outer layer of my self…

Passionate Intensity

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

(Yeats, The Second Coming)

 

 

In light (or in the dark shadow) of Brexit and the US election, I saw a thread on Facebook asking people to post poems relevant to the current political climate.  These could be hopeful or prophetic or sorrowful.  My mind jumped immediately to Yeats, to The Second Coming, to these words above.

 

I don’t believe that “the best” (the anti-hatred, pro-equality contingent) have lacked conviction during the referendum or the election.  There have been impassioned debates, blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets, arguments, about the potential repercussions of our recent political decisions.  Take this one by Tobias Stone as an example in point.  But the absolute disbelief of (who I consider) the reasonable people, has led me to question so much recently.  Were we deluded in thinking that we were the majority?  It seems so.  Did we do enough?  I’m not sure.  See how Corbyn was criticised for his perceived lack of conviction in campaigning against Brexit.  See the searing intensity of the racist element of Trump’s campaign.  The worst are full of passionate intensity.  This begs the question: were “the best” too comfortable in our perception that everyone shared our views?

 

Tobias Stone notes that “liberals tend to cluster in cities.”  This has proved to be the case.  Living in London, Brexit was inconceivable to me.  When I awoke and checked the news, my first reaction was one of disbelief.  I checked several websites before concluding that no, this really had happened.  It was not, as I had suspected, an unfunny joke.  I checked several more before asking myself what this meant for my country.  Similarly, the morning after the US election, when my partner woke me to tell me Donald Trump was now President, my initial response was a half-hearted “you’re joking.”  Having lived in a place where the collective consciousness seemed to rally against the inflammatory racist rhetoric of both campaigns, my reaction to the apparent rise of the far right was simply surprise.

 

Had I known then what I know now- that we were mistaken in our security- I might have campaigned harder.  I might have volunteered my time handing out leaflets and stickers in the streets.  I might have written more, said more, given warnings.  I didn’t.  And so to me, the idea of calling for a second referendum now seems pointless.  The majority (albeit a small one) has spoken.  However outrageous the words it has voiced may seem to me, I have to accept that.  We thought we were too clever.  We were too comfortable.  For all that we did not lack conviction, the passionate intensity of the hate campaigns won out.

 

As Yeats’ times felt for Yeats, this feels for us like the beginning of the end of what we thought we knew.  Perhaps, though, sadder still, it has simply unmasked what we did not know (or want to know) lay behind the liberal faces of racist states.  I know, I know, a vote for Brexit need not have been a vote for racism.  I know, I know (well I don’t but am told) that not all Trump supporters are out-and-out racists.  But racism has been unveiled massively by these recent political results.

 

Still. as it wasn’t for Yeats, so it isn’t for us: it is not the end of the world.  We cannot accept the status quo so must resist it.  In words, in deeds, in thoughts, in gestures, we must resist it.  In whatever ways we can.