In the Animal Garden of My Body
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
Ask me again how the story should go. How much the underbelly of my garden held to bring forth spring, how much hunger I had to devour to get the sweetness I wanted from it. Did this devouring frighten you? I frightened myself in how much I promised to tell you if you asked me again about the water the water the water. What errors I made calculating the downward trajectory of memory rattling loose in the inhale, sharp in the shoulder blades exhaling like wings or whales or swizzles of light. Ask me again what I offered as a sacrifice to the rooster crowing his betrayal of morning. Forgiveness, what a sharp blade I press my body hard against.
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It’s late now on Saturday night, and I have set a timer for a 20 minute write. I read the poem and put my fingers on the keys. I have been watching too much tv this evening. I have been watching too much tv for years. This isn’t a poem about watching tv, it’s a poem about the body, but since about 1988, I have been watching tv as a means through which to get away from my body, or fall away from it, or forget about it. Every now and again I can delight in the animal garden of my body – is that how the poem goes? Is that how the story goes? How much hunger I had to devour – how much hunger I had to hide, and to hide from. Falling into silence is a difficult story, and here my fingers pause and I pull them up away from the keys and tangle them into each other. When is the body a silence, and when is silence a body? I am trying to forgive myself for spending most of my life running away from my body, trying to escape from my own skin, trying to escape from what my skin knew and remembered, trying to escape from what it held. I didn’t try and escape in the suicide ways. I tried to escape in the – what do we call them – coping mechanism ways, the dissociation ways, the deliberate disassembly ways. Is that the word I want, disassembly? I tried to escape through the screen, through the characters there, the stories, the stories. Someone else’s stories. Some other people’s lives. Some other people’s struggles, with real difficulty, but look at the friends around them, and the support and the kindness, and no one in the stories on the screens had to worry about a flashback that looked like a stepfather hovered over a breast. Who can read these stories anymore and want to be here? Why is this a grief writing on a Saturday night, after a poem with wings and whales and swizzles of light? But here’s how the poem ends: Forgiveness, what a sharp blade I press my body hard against. This has been a lifetime of trying to forgive, of trying to learn how to forgive, of trying to be worthy of forgiveness, of trying to forget that I am not forgivable, and then starting all over again – day to day, sometimes minute to minute. Today the puppy and I sat in our just-greening lawn in Maine; spring is pulling up the grass from the hard-worn lawn, pulling up the crocus blossoms and the daffodil buds. Spring is putting a thread of warmth into the middle of the afternoon ocean breeze. It’s April now and the birds have returned, are returning, and the puppy sits alert, her ears perked, listening to something I can’t quite hear. I am listening to the birds, to the house sparrows and the red-winged blackbirds and the cardinals. I am listening to the whole body of the thawing earth around me. There are few bees, only a couple of mosquitoes – the bugs are quiet. There’s a robin that keeps trying to break into the little house I write in. Every day, he bangs into a window, at the door or at the side of the house, next to the pine trees. He has white feathers around his eyes, and when he sees my shadow loom inside, behind the glass he thought was a piece of sky or another bird, he flies away. I don’t know what to tell him, or how to explain that what he’s banging his head against isn’t real, isn’t what he thinks it is. Sometimes, what we’re banging our head against isn’t real, and we have to sit back and listen to daylight grow around us, listen to spring pushing up the pine sap and the new grass and the anthills, listen to the ocean hushing her certain rhythm, her steady pulse, which is the pulse of the whole world. I can’t think about forgiveness as anything but a practice, a kind of course correction. Sometimes I have a moment, a hair’s-breadth, when I can see the day clearly and know that I am forgiven and know that I am free. The moment passes and I drop into the mess of my mind again, into all the can’ts and haven’ts and should-haves and never-dids, into all the loss and worrying at was and might be instead of listening to what is, instead of listening to the sharp breath of a sleeping puppy and the still quiet starlight outside my window, instead of trusting the hush of night rustled distantly by waves, instead of piecing together a quiet peace from these fragments of yes and present and still here, in spite of everything, still here.