Tag: body image

Eulogy for this body

I’m in Romulus, Michigan’s cheapest hotel, sitting cross-legged on a queen-size bed in a too-small tank top and old underwear. It’s my last night in America.

The past eight months have been forming a callous of iron and red mercury around my shoulders, melting and dripping down my back, straight as an arrow, like a cat of liquid mineral with its diamond claws stuck into me, like a river of lava that erodes, digests the green mountain. I can feel it, with its hands and jaws around my inner organs; it’s pulverizing them, crushing my fleshy insides into a pulp that sloshes in me when I move, slowing me, dissolving me. I’ve been crippled, do you see? But my outward appearance is the same; the result is both a feeling of destruction and a feeling of falsity. My blood has been thinned by toxic and hard metal, monsters with solid gold eyes are running their teeth along the marrow of my bones; but what do I have to show for it? When I’m asked if I’m alright, I have to answer yes, yes, of course, because how could I ever prove otherwise? Where are my thickened scars, where is my silver gun, what is my war?

In the evening, I do up my laces and walk out the hotel’s sliding doors; my hands are in the pockets of my best jacket. I take small, measured steps, pouring my liquified heart out, millimeter by millimeter; it pools in my shoes, leaving red footprints along the sidewalk. I walk half a mile in one direction, and then I walk another half-mile in the other. Strips of tar flanked by concrete, a Hilton, a Holiday Inn, a gas station, the highway, airplane hangers beyond. All around me, people fixated on the road ahead, holding onto steering wheels, doing security checks on jets and puddle-jumpers. I think: You know. You know, Emma, you could keep going. You keep walking through the fields, past the highway and the hangers, cut through suburban backyards. They wouldn’t know you were gone, not for days. I pause, hovering, on the border between the end of the road and the undeveloped, blank land ahead.

Hey, God? This is your child speaking; my name is Emma, do you remember me? Do you ever think of me? I’m here now. Did you know the things I’m capable of are incredible? They are. God, did you know the things I’m capable of are terrifying? Oh God, they are, they are.

I want to open myself up, break open my ribcage like a nut, like an oyster’s shell, and scoop out my collapsed lungs onto the pavement. Pull out the threads of my arteries, uncoil the sausage-thick guts, pick at the phlegm and acid of my throat and stomach walls. Tip myself over until I am drained clean. It’ll feel good, so good, to be empty; it’s like when love is returned, becoming your shape and home, it’s like waking up with wings that open in the daylight like a flower. I’ll seal myself shut, my body wiped down and made anew, and keep going. And though I will be empty on the inside: everything else can grow.

It’s spring, today; so let the seeds of wildflowers take root in the warm coats of tissues leftover and occupy the space where my lungs were. Let the air lick down my throat, through my burned temple thorax and settle in my calves, like some small, soft-eyed animal. Sunlight and stars in the back of my neck and down my back: a new spine. Let me make a circlet of wet soil and stolen blood, like a quietly determined school-aged girl sowing daisies into a crown, and hang it close to my throat to quench the worst of my thirst. A layer of sweet-smelling yellow grass to replace muscle and fat, to keep me warm on the nights when I suck up campsite fire and store it where my heart was. Snake skin and bird feathers, river water and clay, a new shape, a new structure. I’ll lower my head, eyes ahead, and run, quick, slick, across the ocean, salt accumulating in the hollows left by my intestines, sea anemones and pink, porous, breathing coral giving me new bones; the reflections on the water traveling from the soles of my feet to the foot of my soul, patterns and color washing away the last of these months from me. I’ll be a self-made angel with a halo of rose thorns and lilies, a natural android with magnesium-rich metals, veined crystalline circuits.

I’d be better then. I promise. I’d be new, that heart of fire and those wildflower lungs don’t need anything but the air in my legs and the sun on my back. Gods and men, keep your hands and your miracles to yourselves. Write my old body a pretty eulogy. Say: She is made in her own image now. Then lift your eyes and watch me run; watch me rise.

Cut your hair

I examine my body in mirrors. In a year’s time, my hair has grown longer than it’s ever been; near the ends it feels like old hay, thick and unhealthy. I run my hands through it and think: this is Medusa’s hair, when she is cleaning herself in seawater at night, running across the white sand, her snakes with their eyes half-closed, dormant, shedding scales dried out by salt. Under the fluorescent light of a hotel bathroom, my hair resembles a horse’s mane, caught and collected against my neck, tangled, dirty; but during the evening, when I spot my silhouette on the wall, I see no hair, only fur down a wolf’s back. Prey or predator, girl or Gorgon; I still haven’t decided which I am. I am pulling at Penelope, undoing her work, ripping my hair from where it’s been threaded with silk and perfume, into her tapestry. I am running away, on the shore, hovering between water and land, my body flipping, switching: sweet, gristly, tender, crippling.

My mother is consoling me; she holds me, she lets me rest on my head on the hollows of her collarbones, my hair falling over her arms. “My God,” she says, “so much hair. It seems like a curtain, more than hair.” I think of actors in porcelain masks on a stage, appearing and disappearing as a velvet curtain rises and falls. For some characters, I bare my canines and carnivore’s nails;  electric and vicious, leaping up to kick flat in the chest, splitting the braid of blood that knots hearts. For others, I slip into yellow moon eyes and milky mouth; demure and gentle, so loving it’s as painful as any wound. Kindness like my monster Medusa bathing in the dark, to save the fishermen; cruelty like a hero, under the sun, with a shield of mirrors, putting a sword to her neck and swinging. They both have their own evils.

I’ve learned that a necessary consequence of living is the disloyalty of the heart; but my spine will always be mine. My feet and teeth, those too. And my hair, of course: short, long, unwashed, clean, wrapped around my body, pulled across my face. It springs from me like Aphrodite from the sea. Whatever I am, carnivore or carnation, moon or monster: I cut my own hair.