Tuesday, July 11, 2017

this is the body






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Every day the body works in the fields of the world
Mending a stone wall
Or swinging a sickle through the tall grass -
The grass of civics, the grass of money -
And every night the body curls around itself
And listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises
From the body in the middle of the night,
Leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
With its thick, pictureless walls
To sit by herself at the kitchen table
And heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
And goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
And opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
And roams from room to room in the dark,
Darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof
In her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
Singing a song about the wildness of the sea
Until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
The way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

Resuming their daily colloquy,
Talking to each other or themselves
Even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body - the house of voices -
Sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
To stare into the distance,

To listen to all its names being called
Before bending again to its labor.



–Billy Collins
The Night House



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My friend, this body is made of bone and excited protozoa and it is with my body that I love the fields. How do I know what I feel but what the body tells me? Erasmus thinking in the snow, translators of Virgil who burn up the whole room, the man in furs reading the Arabic astrologer falls off his three-legged stool in astonishment, this is the body, so beautifully carved inside, with the curves of the inner ear, and the husk so rough, knuckle-brown.

As we walk, we enter the fields of other bodies, and every smell we take in the communities of protozoa see, and a being inside leaps up toward it, as a horse rears at the starting gate. When we come near each other, we are drawn down into the sweetest pools of slowly circling smells . . . slowly circling energies . . . The protozoa know there are odors the shape of oranges, of tornadoes, of octopses . . .

The sunlight lays itself down before every protozoa,
the night opens itself out behind it,
and inside its own energy it lives!

So the space between two people diminishes, it grows less and less, no one to weep, they merge at last. The sound that pours from the fingertips awakens clouds of cells far inside the body, and beings unknown to us start out in a pilgrimage to their Saviour, to their holy place. Their holy place is a small black stone, that they remember from Protozoic times, when it was rolled away from a door . . . and it was after that they found their friends, who helped them to digest the hard grains of this world . . . The cloud of cells awakens, intensifies, swarms . . . the beings dance inside beams of sunlight so thin we cannot see them . . . to them each ray is a vast palace, with thousands of rooms. From the dance of the cells praise sentences rise to the voice of the man praying and singing alone in his room. He lets his arms climb above his head, and says, “Now do you still say that you cannot choose the road?”


–Robert Bly
for Lewis Thomas, and his The Lives of the Cell




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