Do not — my mind bellows at my body — become sexually inconsequential. Do not relinquish this power like a wilting flower.
Last night I was laying beside my very lovely partner human, having a mild if ardent spin-out that revolved around my body generally feeling like it was a taut sack alternatively filled with broken glass or gravel. Which is to say, falling apart.
Currently I have a strained right hip flexor; an achilles tendon “problem”; a torn rotator cuff; a mysterious foot ailment that has been (mis)diagnosed five or six times as “maybe gout,” which leaves my left big toe swollen, and my gait limping; and a lingering jaw problem, which is, admittedly, an old sex injury that has never healed.
I am 33. I drink too much beer and like to smoke spliffs at parties, but all in all? I should feel great. I do all the things. I exercise and eat vegetables and get enough sleep and good god why is this happening?!
And while the feeling of one’s body existing in a near constant state of some kind of pain is a special kind of madness — what on fucking earth will it feel like to get out of bed at 85?! — what I realized is that the hot crux of my fear was losing the joy of my body.
Losing the power that it affords me.
My boyfriend and I have shed a lot of tears around our (maybe) sexual (in)compatibility; to make many painful conversations decidedly shorter with less Sufjan Stevens playing in the background, I’m “ravenous” and he’s “normal.”
I want him obsessed with my flesh; he wants me to trust that love is predicated on so much more than our exchange of fluids and feverish words.
I — maybe in a very self-damaging way (like the tootsie roll pop owls says, “the world may never know”) — have learned to derive so much meaning from my bodily self, I’m loathe to think what is left of me without it.
A husk? A naked stem bereft of its fluff? And all who pass no longer make a wish on me.
There is but a rattling of naked stalks together.
My pussy is like petals. Layer upon layer of pinks, burgundies, fuchsia, beiges; ruffled, it swells with its own rain.
My fingers are stamen—straining outward, beckoning. Or maybe it’s my hair—my glorious tuft of warm rough hair—is the stamen, its filaments waving madly, sending my botanical semen, my vaginal inflorescence, wafting upon the wind. The air is pregnant with possibility.
And good god my stigma, my shining bulb of cloistered bliss. Tiny and gleaming like a wet polished pebble, my clitoris lies dormant—underground, underflesh—patiently throbbing in pink-hued darkness until Spring, the stroke, stroke, stroke of fingers and tongues that let it know it’s time to bloom again.
I’ve always been partial towards thistles. Covered in cruel thorns, they warn you not to touch them, at least not without a tremendous amount of care. But oh my, have you touched the hot purple hairs within their centers? Like florescent silk.
One variety—cirsium vulgare—found throughout North America, Western Asia, and all of Europe (it’s also Scotland’s national flower!) is often considered invasive . . .
But they’re dogged creatures—capable of penetrating even the most compacted, rocky, ill-fated, and barren soils—and get this: Once the plant dies, the big fleshy root decomposes and leaves behind a sizable space for air and water to travel deeper into the soil. Its death makes it possible for other things to grow.
It was with this 400-metaphor treatise rattling around my brain that I stumbled across Heidy Steidlmayer’s poem “Thistles”:
Stand as clocks fully struck
In fields of fading lowers —
When the fires of summer come
They will gather up the hours
Of rains past, frost endured
And famished stalks in full gale
That begin their telling stories once
All forms of telling fail
Thistles as bodies. Plants as bodies.
Do our bodies not tell our tales long before our mouths ever need to open?
The girl rubbing her neck incessantly, fingers grinding into an invisible knot that send waves of sharp pain behind her eyes. She is anxious. Lost in her own discomfort.
The man is limping, wincing, his sock filling with blood. He is struck by how warm his own insides feel against his ankle.
The erection pressing, pressing, pressing against its cloth confines; he has but heard her keys in the door, her shoes slap slap slapping on the linoleum, but his blood is already rushing to meet her.
The sweat on the lip of a girl well-fucked. When she smiles, it runs into the corners of her mouth and she can taste her too; her mouth is slick with pleasure.
The yellowed eyes of sickness, the pallid face of exhaustion, the bucking hips of desire, the cracking knuckles of worry; the body tells tales innumerable.
When words fail, the body knows.
Perhaps what the body knows best is its own limitations; give or take, you get about three decades before things begin to deteriorate, to slow down, to fade like a blossom bleached in the sun—and rot. (I say these these things as an able-bodied human with no disabilities; I am in possession of a corporeal self that grants me tremendous privilege, but even so, the tick-tick-ticking of the Body’s expiration is a harrowing sound.)
The body knows it’s a burden; it’s designed to fail.
Iris Marion Young writes in her book of essays:
The body is the first locus of intentionality, as pure presence to the world and openness upon its possibilities…there is a world for a subject just insofar as the body has capacities by which it can approach grasp, and appropriate its surroundings in the direction of its intentions…
Rather than simply beginning in immanence [self-pervading and sustaining], feminine bodily existence remains in immanence, or, better, is overlaid with immanence, even as it moves out toward the world in motions of grasping, manipulating, and so on.
Consequently she lives her body as a burden, which must be dragged and prodded along at the same time protected…it is an inhibited intentionality…
Young argues that women are trapped between the soaring possibility of their own bodies—the incredible power (literally and metaphysically) of their actual anatomy—and the crushing limitations that society puts on feminine bodies.
Be small. Smell sweet. Be graceful. Be lighter! Brighter! Be quiet. Be smiling! Be consumable. (But don’t satiate any hunger of your own.) Be clean. Be shiny. Be patient. Be thankful.
And do not—my mind bellows at my body—become sexually inconsequential.
Do not relinquish this power like a wilting flower.
I want to talk about the silence of plants. And the joy of my sounds.
When you snap a branch, when you cut a rose, when you trample a bush or scatter a dandelion with a laughing breath, don’t you pity their silence? Don’t you wish they could bellow back at you?
My body is like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins; it’s a preposterous cacophony rumbling down the street and into your arms. It will tell you I’ll be there soon—you’ll hear me singing a block away.
It sighs, delighted at what’s in store. It lows like a hungry calf and moans like an amorous cat; it whimpers, it wetly whistles, it screams and howls and growls; it makes incredible sounds.
And he holds his knuckly hand over my mouth so the neighbors don’t hear my noises—our spectacularly strange and perfect noises—because “Forever — is composed of Nows,” Emily Dickinson wrote, and right now is just ours.
And right now? My body is singing its sex into oblivion.
Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex:
The younger and healthier a woman is and the more her new and glossy body seems destined for eternal freshness, the less useful is artifice … In any case, the more traits and proportions of a woman seem contrived, the more she delighted the heart of man because she seemed to escape the metamorphosis of natural things. The result is this strange paradox that by desiring to grasp nature, but transfigured, in woman, man destines her to artifice.
The younger our body, the more Natural it is, the less it “needs” blush or Spanx or a satin stiletto to achieve desirability. But in order to maintain that semblance of Naturalness, the more blush It needs—what ruddy cheeks she has!—the further the feminine body falls from actual Naturnalness.
For what is more natural than the body failing? Grow gentle. Fail, it whispers. Let your leaves drop and head grow heavy; do not live to be touched, for your petals were just the beginning—do not be so selfish. Your roots and rot will feed countless others and surely that is the most a body could ever ask for.