Monday, November 19, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 9 - Jessica Goodfellow

How to Describe the Desert Without Saying Water
- Jessica Goodfellow

Wanted: bauble of milky mouth.
Fat knee of shameless need, kneading.
Wanted: fontanelle ticking, a fist
of collateral tightening. Frightening
whorl of faintest resemblance—thin
as glaze, angle, or desire.

What I wouldn’t have (forsaken).
Crone whispered, Bridegroom hissed—
My groggy head in vespers once
northward canted. Cant = can’t.
My fault. Crone’s nostrums: always
it was water, variables afloat, science

listing. Crone intoned the Water Deva,
snake in the well. From feminine flotsam
infused a brooding brew. Awoke my desert(ed)
troth to sit unsheathed in a rainstorm.
The one constant was water—no planet
without it breathes. I was no planet.

And now. My moon blooms amphibian.
Glory, my taproot has plummeted.
My matrix is configured. Hosanna.
Madonna figure, de rigueur,
who once beleaguered be.
Full regalia my penetralia is.

Jessica describes "How to Describe the Desert Without Saying Water" as "an expression of my own body's transitional place between infertility and pregnancy (but not infertility and fertility; my experience has been, once infertile, always infertile, even after the babies come. And they did come.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 8 - Nicole Cartwright Denison

the smuggler speaks of maim
- Nicole Cartwright Denison

I dreamt the phantom limb
past the crook of arm
back of knee
tingling, tugging
an affront
to purpose,

notice, then practice their
leers at the appendage

do they not recognize
offending members
bared in the marketplace,
my crimes for all to see

pity they clamor
for bloodlust
terrible sport

single digit
left counting,
one foot saved
to ease my travels

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 7 - Jarvis Slacks

On Keloids - Jarvis Slacks

It’s called keloid. Key. Loid. It is when the skin won’t heal like most people’s skin heals. Think of the skin healing cross-sectionally, lacing together and then melting to produce a seamless reality where a mistake happened. A keloid is the opposite. The skin lumps together and then just tries to figure things out the best it can. It is like the skin says, Can blood get out? No? Then we’re done here. No one really knows why the condition exists. And, yes, it is most common in black people. My people. In some counties, they still call us “you people.”

Keloids are the most wonderful scares. They rise up off the skin, or make the skin appear completely different than it did before. I have one on the back of my right hand. It happened after a bad night with a bad girl. I was riding my bike and flipped and slid and there they were: five new scars that will never go away. When people ask about it I tell them the truth: a mistake. But I’m not talking about the bike accident. I’m talking about the night before. Scars are direct representations of the things you do—I am a firm believer that, somehow and sometime, you have to pay for your mistakes.

For example, there is a scar on my belly. On the left side, up and down. I called my sister a foul name (bitch). Then I climbed a tree. Then I slid down the tree, and my belly took off some of the bark. It was huge, then, the scar. The length of my body. Now it is as long as my pinky. There is also one on my shin, from my foot to my knee, where I refused to help my mother do something. I can’t remember what. Then I ran into the underpinning of my house on a four-wheeler. There are scars from where I dated this girl for a week, this girl I shouldn’t have, and then I got ring-worm and now there are dozens of little places where the skin is dark, places where it should be light.

Recently I’ve been having conversations about plastic surgery with beautiful women. These women are older, yes, and they are afraid of what aging may bring in thirty years. The conversations seemed to bounce off me. My body isn’t something to fix. It isn’t something that can be remedied. My body doesn’t have scars, I have scars. Emotional, physical, whatever, I’m riddled. My belly isn’t big. I’m big. My leg doesn’t hurt. I hurt. I am slowly understanding that this place that I spend so much time with, my body, is so much of me. People say, Get rid of the physical. Look past the flesh. I’m embracing my flesh, fully accepting of it. This is me, I say, sometimes, to people. These days, I tend to walk around my house naked, the windows open.

This could be me getting old, not caring about the ideas of beauty as much as I used to, when beauty was obtainable. Or it could be me getting more arrogant, thinking my body is the most beautiful body in the world. And I really do think that. When I look in the mirror, I don’t want to be anyone else. I couldn’t imagine it. A certain level of arrogance can save you a lifetime of doubts, some costly medical procedures, or some therapy. Scars aren’t so bad. As long as you remember where they came from—how not to get them, again.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 6 - Kate Sweeney

The Tattooed Lady Speaks
- Kate Sweeney

My first tattoo isn’t small. I live in a southern town, which means that any season other than the dead of winter, you’ll see it. The other one is pretty readily visible, too. Because now there are two. Somehow this happened, and intrinsically, it pleases me. But still, I don’t want to be identified as “The Tattooed Girl.”

Did this ever get to the Lion Tamer? Did he long for the world to know he could also play the kazoo so sweetly it could lull a babe to slumber? I heard no one bought it when Snake Woman mentioned she’d taken up photography. And the Fat Lady. Well. She’s still battling it out.

Except of course, the difference is that every ounce of unwanted attention in this matter is my fault. No one else forced me into first one tattoo studio and then another, a few years and hundreds of miles later. Oh, and nobody forced my hand in deciding Tattoo Number One would be a primitive explosion of vivid red-orange rose blossoms just beneath my shoulder blades. It’s this that introduced me to the phenomenon of people I didn’t know well identifying me as The Girl With That Tattoo. All my doing.

I did this. And not just because I thought the design was pretty, but because of how I imagined it identified me. The obvious problem, however, is that I don’t get to control the significance other people place on my tattoos. Other people do not see this ink and think, “Ah. Bookish and creative.” The men at the truck stops see it and send up wise smirks. My grandmother saw them only recently—not my idea. (Thanks, sis’!) To her, the tattoos amounted to disappointment; marked me as “common.” To some guys at bars, they signify “promiscuous but scary.” In reality, I am both shy in a number of matters and neurotic, but not psychotic. Then there’s the typical “Ah, trendy!” reaction, followed in the same breath, with “Foolhardy.” As in, “She’ll regret that in five years.” When I told a colleague once that I got those roses done in my mid-twenties, she said, “Oh! I’d assumed it was like, one of those regretful things you did back when you were eighteen.”
Um, no.

The worst though, is people who assume because I have a couple, that I am a fan of tattoos in general. That I’ll
1. like
2. want to talk about
that dolphin on your belly/the Celtic band across your arm/your future plans to map that scene from Gladiator across your back.
Listen: I’m not a conventioneer. I just don’t want to talk about tattoos, yours or mine.

It’s unsettling to be reminded of one's physical appearance by people you’ve just met. I feel for the pregnant woman whose fate it is to have strangers in grocery stores reach out to brush their fingers across her swollen belly, as if her body somehow no longer belonged to her.

What makes it especially irritating is that in large part, the reason I got these tattoos has everything to do with claiming my body as my own. If there’s anything I want people to get when they see me, it’s that I’m someone who tries not to buy into fashion norms or conventional consumerist hoo-ha, thank you. The word “fashion” makes me squirm. Like malls, like thong underpants. I’ll say so with my body. I’ll say so right up front.

The agonizing, hilarious irony is that of course, in fashion’s predictable arc, tattoos, like Chuck Taylor shoes and so many things before them, long ago went from being anti-fashion statements to being signs of hipness. Where was I when this happened? Maybe at this bar, wearing a variant of the same outfit I’ve worn since I was 17: Converses and some $2 thrift store dress. And hey, look: everyone around me here now looks like this too, although that's no sign that they share my politics or passions. And yet maybe tonight I’ll make some sort of connection. Because listen: there’s this guy trying to get my attention over the music; wait, what? He leans over. Shouts into my ear.
“My ex-girlfriend had a tattoo sort of like that!”
Oh, really?
“She was a real bitch!”
All right.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 5 - Jeannine Hall Gailey

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made; or, How Am I Like the X-Men?
- Jeannine Hall Gailey


We all start out as children wondering if we are special, unique. We secretly believe we are not like anyone else; that, like Superman, we are orphans from a different planet, with phenomenal superpowers, being raised by "regular" humans. Sometimes these beliefs come true, but not in exactly the ways we had hoped.

There's a verse in Psalm 139 that goes something like "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; I know that full well." When I studied biology for my undergraduate degree, and had the opportunity to do some real life dissection of the human body (a rarity for an undergrad, usually reserved for med school students) I did marvel that everything turned out so well: the layers of fascia, the bones beneath the sleek muscles, the fascinatingly complex eye and heart. I remember the professor saying, "None of your cadavers will look like the pictures in the text books; every body has a little abnormality - an enlarged liver, for instance, in this person, or a collapsed lung in this one. Some people have too many vertebrae in their spines, or too few, or an extra dozen feet of colon in their digestive tract." It was a wake-up call for me as I worked on the cadaver with my scalpel, not to take anything for granted. Maybe an organ was hiding beneath another organ, or it was on the wrong side, or it had a different shape and color.

My little brother and I read the X-Men comics together in the mid-eighties, a comic that focuses on characters who, through genetic mutation, have developed powers (like spontaneous healing or controlling the weather) that make them extremely helpful to the human race but also make them outsiders who have to battle bigotry against "mutant kind."

Recently, my hematologist, the kind of doctor that everyone should hope to have (caring, smart, dedicated, and a persistent detective) asked me to come in to her office to meet a few other doctors who were experts in the research of their respective fields, visitors at the University of Washington, where my hematologist teaches. One of the doctors, a woman about my age who looked like someone they'd cast as a doctor in a show like Grey's Anatomy (I think she was a pathologist, an expert in rare infectious diseases - now there's an interesting career!) was asking me about my various genetic and congenital abnormalities and health problems: an extremely rare genetic bleeding disorder called PAI-1 Deficiency, a "horseshoe" or single, long kidney hugging the front of my abdomen, a "twinned" uterus, an abnormal heartbeat, asthma, an enlarged thyroid, an allergy to sunlight (blisters and flu symptoms when I go out in bright sun for too long) and alcohol (I pass out after less than half a glass of wine.)

"Wow," she said, "Genetically, you've got to be one out of, like, 50 million. Have you noticed yourself developing any special powers? You know, like the X-Men?"

"Not yet," I responded, "but I'm pretty sure they're going to manifest any day now."

I know I am unique. Different. Special. Fearfully made, yes. Wonderfully made? I'm still working on coming to terms with that. A sense of wonder. Wondering.