I know the whirling, fluid bloom of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar only through my ear’s machinery. The inimitable timbres of my family’s voices, warbling wrens, the slap of water: ears every time. Our skin, covered in nearly microscopic hairs and ridges, claims the world to our bodies, claims the wondrous bodies of others, silkiness, cold, wind. Newborns recognize their mothers with taste buds that spill out to their lips. Our senses encounter the world.
And the vehicle of our senses, the body, seems to contain us. Despite reports to the contrary, I haven’t seen anything that suggests I can do without it. I want to believe in out-of-body experiences, but so far it’s all want. So I’m glad to live during a cultural era that largely celebrates the body. We show more of our bodies in public, although the jury is out on the collective quality of that, we spend billions on exercise equipment to keep those bodies viewable, we knock back pills fairly late in life to stay sexually active. We shake our booties, and we fight like hell to keep the government off that general area.
Popular music has long represented the reclamation of the body and sensual experience from more conservative viewpoints—from Benny Goodwin’s swing music getting kids to dance, to Elvis and his wicked pelvis, to Prince, Hip-Hop, Madonna. In a sort of nod to the ancient Greek understanding of mind/body synergy, George Clinton’s great funk band, Parliament, sang, “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.”
Of course, pop music appeals most heavily to the young, and the young own the bodies most likely to function. When I sang along, rapturous, with George Clinton, I was not thinking about how the body fails to deliver one sensual pleasure after another, that it is also a conduit of suffering and breakdown, that someday I may free my mind and my ass will remain on the couch. As a result of this betrayal, we often go from wringing all we can from our bodies to mostly maintaining them, as they’re still required for less quantifiable experiences, like love and thought.
The body breaks down. Down the slick road from beautiful youth to Shakespeare’s “bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” If we’re all body, does that mean we just decay? Where does all the love and thought happen, especially if there might be more of that when my body slows down? I guess we must grow somehow inward, but I’m risking the mysticism I rejected above.
On the moral level, there is some consensus that we are what we do. I appreciate that, but I wonder where the tally is stored. I also love Wordsworth’s quote that refers to the “best part of a good man’s life/His little nameless unremembered acts of kindness,” and completely agree, but think it basically sucks. How will anyone know when I’ve resisted temptation? We should fucking get some credit for that! In 1785 Robert Burns, a rockstar poet of his own time, was convicted of fornication and made to perform public penance. In one response, the poem “Address to the Unco Guild, or the Rigidly Righteous,” he implied that his accusers lacked the drive to even contemplate his degree of life-force and desire, and that “What’s done we partly may compute,/But not what’s resisted” [emphasis is Burns’].
Many will argue that someday a Higher Power will tote up the goodnesses performed. Maybe it will. I just don’t have that in my experience, and have always struggled to believe it on faith. I do have experience, though, of people surviving aging’s brutal march with shining humor and affection. The goodness of that seems uncontainable in these shabby containers. There should be a Hall of Fame for that. Maybe there is.
The speaker in Matthew Hamilton’s “Aphroditus Walks the Streets of Bimini” luxuriates in the sensual. The poem’s timbre is nicely balanced with darker images lurking around Bahaman pleasure.
For our flash entry this week we have three very short excerpts from Rachel Adams’ novella, “Between You and I.” These lyric, musical shorts bring us a classroom that empathizes with the insect world, a harrowing meditation on the effects of anxiety, and a poetic take on violence and desire that invokes the ancient story, “Leda and the Swan.” Adam’s original voice sings and haunts.
“Where the Sun Don’t Shine,” a short story by Neil Serven, follows a few high school baseball players and their friends as they try to stay busy following the discovery of a murdered teammate’s sister in the dugout before a game. With spot-on description and unsentimental dialogue, Serven evokes the listlessness and often confusing wants of late adolescence.
Photo by Linda Garcia