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Friday, April 18, 2014

I sing the body defective

April is National Poetry Month. And, perhaps because of that but probably not, I was recently looking for answers in poetry. (I'm a firm believer in text-as-medicine.) I mumbled Prufrock to myself on the train. But mostly I turned to Whitman, that celebrator of the body, that open modern mind, whose words I have found nourishing so many times. (Like, want to feel kind of okay about death? Here you go.)

But where I thought I'd find comfort, I found more alienation.


I SING the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves;         5
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?

He writes about the fool who corrupts her body, and I feel that fool is me. Not by choice, obviously -- or maybe, obviously yes by choice, by choosing to live here among the plastics and the chromium and the fumes, all of which corrupted my cells, and with the help of faulty genes and errant mouse-carried viruses, made a place for wrong to grow. 

And then by necessity, I corrupted my body further with medication, a careful dose of killing stuff.

He writes of the body's connection to the soul -- but what happens when part of the body is gone? Is there a piece of the soul gone too? Does it occupy the air around my tissues in a freezer somewhere? Am I less eternal without these parts?

Whitman was no stranger to amputation. A medic in the Civil War, he wrote about the gruesome sight of cut off limbs, piled up near a tree. In "The Wound Dresser" he writes of a young soldier, "His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,/And has not yet look’d on it."

But I have. I have not lost a limb, but that doesn't mean I haven't lost a part. A piece. I am looking now. I think. It's hard to know, impossible to see precisely. It's always a reflection, or through the eye of a camera, that I see the entirety of the field. But it has always been this way with the body, I guess. What did we do before there were mirrors?

I'm angry at Walt Whitman.

He writes of existing beyond death, of defying time through the pages of his book. I feel like reaching in through the spaces between the lines and grabbing him by his open collar and pulling him close to my face and saying,  

Why have you left me here alone?

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