“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.
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
“Words change depending upon who speaks them; there is no cure.” –Maggie Nelson
You say it is uncomfortable. Words are a puzzle without illustration guiding you in and it would be so much easier if we stopped changing our minds about what we are.
You say there is a choice and when you throw those two letters up in the air, you just cannot fathom why heads shake and bodies want to hide because choice should not be determined by strangers.
You say pink or blue but not both and never other shades such as taffy or aegean or flamingo or admiral. You say that department stores separate their fabrics for a reason.
You say there is a book which decides what words mean and one cannot change meanings without consultation but but but.
What would happen if we just stopped worrying about inconveniencing others and spend a day, week, month, hour, rest of our lives living inside the vocabulary, accessories, music of who we are determined by the source that matters most: ourselves.
from Sara Ahmed’s “Living a Feminist Life”: “An empty bowl that feels like an accusation can be the beginning of a feminist life.”
Inside, I put pieces of my hair that appear like loose, bloody windstorms. But isn’t it still empty? I use plastic scissors, because I want my fingers to struggle, as I cut away every claim on my skin that has been denied. I place that man’s voice who asked me why my arms were so scarred. I told him: I tried to kill myself. He said to me: You didn’t do it right. But isn’t the bowl still empty? I place laughter–my own–when fingernails like shovels dug beneath armpits behind knees to tickle. I shouted NO! because it was too much. You kept on you kept on because I was laughing. My NOs got folded in somehow. But isn’t it still empty? I practice expository essays each morning to train my voice into a deeper chord. Use punctuation and footnotes and even an alphabetized works cited to show the archival of trauma. Placed into bowl, but you said it just repeated itself. Isn’t the bowl still empty? I electrocuted my fingers and wrists in order to dig out the wiring trying to disconnect us all. Took photographs of all my stretchmarks because society seems to think they are extinct somehow. Mailed you the history of starvation to explain my discomfort with Western fasting culture. Removed the airbrushed bruising on my brain from every drug I ever used to help me escape. Put into bowl. Watched it disappear. Isn’t the bowl still empty? What does it look like to finally be full?