“The two impulses in travel are to get away from home, and the other is to pursue something – a landscape, people, an exotic place. Certainly finding a place that you like or discovering something unusual is a very sustaining thing in travel.” – Paul Theroux
First semester of graduate school and my professor asks us to state our name and where home is. These literary-soaked strangers name places on the west coast, in the middle and a few from the south. I hadn’t lived in many places, but none really felt like home to me and what does home even look like. So instead, I thought about the place I knew the best but felt at home in the least: my body. My professor was not impressed, a little confused and asked about a place on the map. I said it again: my body. He made that sound men make when they just want you to concede.
We collect stamps in passport books and catalogue our trophies from everywhere we’ve traveled: post cards, shot glasses, magnets, t-shirts. But what about the markings on a body. That bullet-shaped hole beside my knee from challenging, beautiful, love-soaked canoe trip in Canada; blisters on feet from all that walking in Amsterdam; sunburn and hair loss and sore throat and those pants from that thrift store.
What will be discovered today? What will be lost? What will be mailed back? Someone will say a prayer for a part of the body that never felt like it belonged, so trained hands will scalpel and remove and sew and send home a body that now looks familiar, only bloodied and bruised and tender and right.
Someone else will stand beside that person and wonder what else can be removed. Wonder if one can create a gofundme page for a brain that is soaked in sadness.
Many years later and “my body” is still the answer when asked about where home is. Welcome mat long gone (did it ever exist?), windows stained, door hinges rusty and squeaked, quite a bit of hoarding. No, I guess there is no map with my body’s coordinates plainly presented, but not everything that we (want to) believe in can be seen.
“Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
Here, the trees are from literature, the kind which hide wild inside its bark. Living within the grass stems and rock formations: lizards and skinny squirrels.
On an early morning romp with the pup, I exhale city from my lungs. My brain forks into memories of past lives. Who was I best? How do I access that corner closet behind my kidneys that houses my widest smile?
Sometimes I fear I am most alone when I am loved.
My pup chases a family of ducks and I think about what part of my body feels most familiar. I contemplate a body not always in panic mode. I channel Proust, grow fingernail long enough to scoop out my left eye (my right one wouldn’t budge), and replace it with milkwood. I blink blink blink and attempt a resurrection.
Is it possible to rewrite how we see things. Here, in the south, Sea Grapes and Cabbage Palms. Maybe I can unfurl the roots in me that just stopped growing.
Maybe I just need to keep digging.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
― On the Road: the Original Scroll
There is something that happens to the brain during a very, very long car ride. It becomes a highway, stretching out, gathering traffic, sending out signs offering helpful bits of information (slow down, working zone). When I am behind the wheel, while he keeps track of license plates, I watch the silent film of landscape; I wonder what it is like to be a tree in the median which never gets climbed, carved into by lovers or hugged; I wonder if I will make it to my fortieth year of existence; I wonder if my mailbox at home has mail for me yet. He wants to talk, but I somehow left my words in Brooklyn. I use the wrong vocabulary here and I don’t know the right dialect for manners in the south and I miss the sound of graffiti scraping off tongues that has become such a familiar sound in my city. I guess leaving is the best way to fall in love again.
It was easier to do it myself,
press it firmly between thumb and pointer
pull out its uncertain taste buds
a planet of blood takes its place.
Or I could wait my turn–
as the rest of the women wait on line
each one, sucking on pliers
tongues torn out like paper.
If I am to be silenced,
I much prefer to do it myself
so I swallow my tongue
before they snatch it away,
digesting every word, every protest
every scream sewed into the muscle
still living inside me.
Bodies are appliances (plugged in, burnt, stained and bent, infested with mice). Like poems, they stir. What do we become when we are no longer present-tense singular. What I mean is, when the past drapes around necks, trauma choke hold, and the past becomes bits of swollen teeth biting and bruising. Rot.
Or what I am trying to get at…a body is anthologized with several editors (some un-cited), disordered chapters, an offensive misspelling on page twenty-seven.
So you place body on shelf. If it matters enough to you, you alphabetize, you catalogue. You forget its there.
Insert dust mites, black mold, cobwebs of broken fingernails and flakes of skin.
You consider taking it off the shelf to read again or (let’s be honest) to read for the first time through. You get comfortable. Sip the tea you’ve steeped. Chew on the biscuits you’ve fanned out on snack tray. Chapter one is too boring. Chapter seven is too dark. You decide to skip to the end, but it is a run-on sentence which began several chapters before. Your tea spills, the biscuits are so dry, you feign a choke. You realize that to understand this body, you must read all its parts. Even the messy, awkwardly worded ones. So you dig your bones further into couch cushions.
This will be awhile.
The body is a suitcase. Too cheap to check, more like a carry on. Contraband bone break, too many slaughtered commitments to call it high quality. Chipping, peeling at the corners. Pockmarked and sunburnt and chapped leather (faux). Go on, try and carry this. Go on, try calling it designer or throw back. The handles have been pulled out of shape. There are no pockets, zipper stuck, it cannot lock any longer. Looks like another break in. Go on and report it. Body luggage lost somewhere between moss and sky. There is insurance for times like these, but who can afford that, nowadays?
Woman on 6 train / stares at my arms as though / they are dear john letters
Written during ages 16 through 35 / the lines are like weeping relationships / blockading skin
Some so deep / you can hear the ghosts of caskets / preparing