Thoreau on the Private Institution
Marriage, it is not said, is an economy
like any other, a rough barter of desires
as subject to early frost, chafers and grubs,
apple glut or accidental ferment as in any
ripe October. Some men grow thick in
the whir of all that want: not one day’s
harvest answers the hunger of another.
The drive of coveting, again and again,
your one wife. Husband from hus or
house and bonde, chronic tiller of soil.
Men furrow fields; wall off their seeded
land with stones cleared from the path
of their heavy ploughs. Wife from wiif,
weip, or ghwibh: a bitch, or something
wrapped, or genitals and shame. Yet
to own a woman is not to know, master,
or conceal her. In some men, the fact
of her terra incognita makes them half
mad: the stray spark in her that flits,
evades capture. Song she hums without
him, not for him, words sprung from
vibration in her unstoppered mouth,
unfettered bones. I have seen men
light their barns afire trying to rout
the mystery of their chattel, enigma
from the helpmate, or discover what
leads them, oxen, by the ringed nose.
Naked: A Letter
Because you have asked, because it remains difficult for me
to remove my clothes in daylight, I will give a brief account
of my body. (Isn’t that what the beloved yearns to read?
A history in which he or she becomes the defining actor,
longest chapter, catalyst, and ever-after.)
Raised on the run: track and field, miles under summer sun,
I thought of the body as a single engine prop plane, a derby
horse, a typewriter. Its purposes: speed, endurance, an exit
clause from the social law that a girl must first be beautiful
and undesiring. Then, appealing
but chaste. I ran, fast and faster, to halt the stopwatch tick
with due harvest from legs and lungs. I ran for a college
scholarship until the day I fell, at top speed, and landed
oddly. Muscle and nerve damage, salvaged (savaged) by
a surgeon. I would walk
but never run again. Post-accident, I sought to diminish
the disloyal body. Its immobilized existence unbearable.
As a small light vehicle, it disguised a ravenous mind too
eager and hungry for my age and gender. I sought to be
as guiltless as space. Bad at math
but adept at subtraction: numbers’ descent of a spiral stair,
lessening gravity’s claim. Two years into my campaign,
I realized that in losing body, I was also losing my mind.
I did not miss the liability of traveling in a female shape.
But I missed cognitive heft.
Associative speed. Acuity of memory. Fear of permanent
loss resulted in a sullen contest between aims. To nourish
a mind, I had to give it an address. My leg bears a red scar
where a surgeon inserted his hand, exploring the trochanter
and femur, removing
impingements of the nerve. Lengthening the tendons. Clearing
scar tissue. Whenever I saw the keloid parabola, I thought
of the clinical hand inside my flesh. For years, another’s
touch was unfathomable. Nakedness, an impossibility.
To be clothed, to be safe,
to maintain an integral body, walled from invasion. Stage enter:
anorexia. Stage enter: books, bodies of knowledge absolved from
the body. (Pretending to be.) Deciding at twenty-eight, thirty-five,
and thirty-nine not to have children. Enough having been born,
already. Motherhood not required
to speak a mother tongue. Lover’s tongue. Tongue freed from
ways in which mind is made to speak as a body. Gertrude Stein,
moving to Paris, indulged in the illusion that she alone “owned
English.” Authority without interpolation. Stein, born
in Allegheny West, Pittsburgh.
The day I met you, I discerned a route from Pittsburgh to Paris,
Alleghenies to Avignon. In months of conversation, a conversion
of each to another: we are born to a mother and, if lucky, to a lover
who abides, companion and witness, in the ocean of sex, thickets
of solitude. Metamorphosis
as reason for nascence. We are not only manufacturers, disciples,
expendable labor, aggregate data, voting blocks, a set of statistical
probabilities of purchase, progeny, longevity. We are born to turn
to a face who will behold us among selves, guised or undisguised,
holy naked, wholly nude.