I want to talk about bodies. About how different these words are:
“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
……………~ Ralph Ellison
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
……………~ Mark Strand
Different bodies make a different literature. A man, invisible, must insist on his corporeal self, while a man, visible, can be what is missing. I write about violation and blood because it is the experience of this, my body, in these years, in this place. There is no hierarchy of lived experience or story told, even if one body is more valued than the other in the world.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
I want to talk about bodies. My body was once small and thin. I remember the parameters of it, and how the world felt large around me. I was shorter then, and prepubescent. After puberty: a new body, harder to sling across the monkey bars. I was changed and not—new, but the same.
In my first high school in between classes boys would smash against me and grab my breasts or stick their fingers in between my legs, looking for that open place. Sometimes they gave me titty-twisters, with a lingering flick or tug. In my second high school no one smashed against me or grabbed me in the halls, but because my sister and I hugged and no one knew us, some kids thought we were lovers. Someone recently asked me if I had any close friends left from high school and I realized I had people I kept up with—Christmas cards and facebook likes—but no one I spoke to on a regular basis. All my oldest friends have been in my life since before the post-puberty tumble of men and women around these hips, these thighs.
Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.
I want to talk about bodies. The internet came alive around a picture of a woman’s ass on Instagram a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t the usual ass—naked and symmetrical and round. It was clothed in sleep pants and wouldn’t have been remarkable except for the dark red stain on the pant seam. When I saw the picture, I thought of my own blood. Blood that’s bled through jeans or stained my sheets. Blood that’s come suddenly from me on the subway platform, with me hoping it would not run down my legs before I could get to a restroom to insert a tampon or put on a pad. When I was a girl one Easter, while we drank the blood of Christ and sang the resurrection, my mother bled through her Easter dress and I stood behind her until we got to the car, hugging her waist so no one would see. She was stained by a mundane, vulgar red. Mundane because menstrual blood is common, usual, and expected. Vulgar because it does not flow from a wound but from our sex, from a euphemism, from ourselves. It is the red that arrives on the body’s time, independent of machine or mechanism, clock or will. How many times have I prayed for that stain, just so I would not have always the question in my mind: when? How many times have I also wished it away, just so I would not have to stuff myself full of cotton or feel the chafing of pads in the hot summer against my sweaty, moist skin?
Drink from this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
I want to talk about bodies. About skin and effluvia. My skin is pinkish-tan, with a blue undertone. The common nomenclature is white. I have to wear SPF 35 or higher in the beach sun, and I have heard a police officer become kind at a traffic stop after catching a glimpse of me. One of my high school boyfriends was driving at the time. Him: brown-tan, with a pinkish undertone. The common nomenclature is black. He used to get zits on his back that he would let me pop and the white puss and clear water that would spit from them was the same as the liquid from the sometimes zits on my own face. On the weekends, after work, we would sit in my driveway telling stories until the early hours of the morning. He was bilingual in Spanish and English and he taught me how to dance the merengue. We broke up because I was fickle, and didn’t know what was good or real.
Do this in remembrance of me.
I want to talk about bodies. Last summer I was riding the Q train downtown with a friend when a stranger slapped my ass. My friend was male and older and white and the stranger was male and younger and black. I turned to the stranger and said loudly, with as much incredulity as I could, really? Really? His friends looked at him, wondering what he would do. The stranger shrugged and we locked eyes for a minute. He looked embarrassed, but tense, wondering what I would do next. My friend looked at me and asked me what was going on. Nothing, I said. When the stranger got off the train with his friends at the next stop, I told my friend what had happened. Rage rose in his face. Why didn’t you tell me? he said. Why didn’t you tell me? I replied: because my body belongs to me, and I don’t think you know that either. I would have kicked his ass, he said. I know, I said, and I was right—he didn’t understand.
Different bodies make a different literature. A woman, invisible, must insist on her corporeal self, while a man, visible, can be what is action. I write about violation and blood because it is the experience of this, my body, in these years, in this place. There is no hierarchy of lived experience or story told, even if one body is more valued than the other in the world.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, to give our thanks and praise.
Read All Columns by Laura Jean Moore
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love