After Betty Goodwin's The Memory of the Body (1993)

Ruth Roach Pierson

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As Whitman sang the body electric

Goodwin sings the body forested:

dense stand of dark-trunked saplings

illumined by a blood-streaked sky,

ominous forest where

abandoned children wander

vulnerable to the spell of wolves,

stepmothers and jealous queens—

omnivorous forest, perilous to enter.

 

I mean the body unseen,

the body beneath the skin

where invisible infrastructure

thrums as it surges and sluices

through murky runnels and canals, networks

of branching pipes puffing,

slaving away—schuften

schuften, schuften, schuften—

with little or no compensation

until strength gives out, and

the blood-orange sea explodes,

subsides, drains away

 

or is pumped clean by funereal technicians

like those who flushed and sewed

until your body became the one

displayed in the satin-lined casket,

a papier-mâché effigy wearing

your wire spectacles—

 

not a body I recognized,

not the body you inhabited as a boy

small for your age, red-nosed, recurrently

bedridden, a body we believed

had no athletic bent, the body you left

 

behind as you grew into manhood

discovering the body turning

handsprings in Love’s Labour’s Lost

as we gasped in disbelief, having

been firm in our conviction that your body

 

was incapable of anything more

physical than some side stroke swimming, yet

here you were, suddenly fit and muscled,

dancer-like in strength and grace,

 

in an adult body that filled out over the years,

acquired padding traceable to your priestly

passion for food and drink, especially fine

non-sacerdotal wine—a fullness

cancers and their ruthless treatments

then eroded, sucking

 

vitality from your cheeks and bones—the frame

over which morticians pulled

your tissue-thin skin to fashion

a caricature of your vacated body,

the body I wish to erase from my memory,

the body I refuse as the memory of you.

Ruth Roach Pierson, "After Betty Goodwin's The Memory of the Body (1993)" from Contrary. Copyright © 2011 by Ruth Roach Pierson. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Contrary (Tightrope Books, 2011)