flesh and spirit

In the last week, too many people I know have talked about feeling distant from their bodies, confused by them.

Read, Write, Poem talked about specific or specialized vocabulary this week, and about sonnets. I found myself thinking about scientific classifications. Too many people I know have felt classified in unnatural ways and unable to move freely. I don’t think classifications have to bind. A name can give the essence of what’s named, and can change in reaction to what’s named — a name can recognize.

This is a love poem, then. (I’ll put the translations below, for anyone curious.)


When you look up from dishes, flushed with steam,
you are amica blanda. When you pass,
fides baccata, bearing a wet wine glass
wild in reflection from a candle flame

you sing old words and dig the roots and gaze.
Soft down lines your temple. Meadow lark,
alauda mega singing in the dark,
you are the whole creation that you praise.

Rename yourself now. Name your living body.
Anima caronis, name each sinew,
tongue and toe and forehead, palms and lips.

Name every cell and fluid wall within you.
Shiver in frost and darkness, bare before God,
holding out your arms to the eclipse.

* * *
For three days, I have danced my feet sore. Dancing to live music, in a familiar pattern, with several hundred people at all hours of the day is tiring, and blissful, comforting the way all hard exercise is comforting. It clears your head. You can forget time and place in a dance. And at the same time, it is inescapably physical.

You can’t pass through a hundred people’s arms and not be aware of yourself in space, spinning and aching and steadying yourself against their hands. You can’t help feeling the way they move, feeling those who make you comfortable and those who put you off. And you talk by touch. Without speaking (you have no time, and you can’t be heard over the fiddles) you read enjoyment, pressure, confusion, confidence in their hands and bodies, and you decide to match their steps or to assert your own.

It is as clear an illustration as I’ve ever had that mind and body have no clear limits. And every single separation I’ve ever seen has been painful. Lord knows, I wish I knew how to say that in any useful way.

Amica blanda — alluring friend or loved one. (blanda suggests blandishments, not blandness at all.) Latin, like English, seems to need more words for different kinds of love.
fides baccata — fruit-bearing faith
alauda mega — great skylark (mega evokes vastness for me, omega, though I know very little Greek.)
Anima caronis — soul or spirit of the body or flesh.


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3 Responses to “flesh and spirit”

  1. rbarenblat Says:

    The second and fourth stanzas blow me away.

    Also, I’d read this through twice before I noticed the rhyme. (That’s a compliment; what I mean is, the rhyme is sufficiently organic that it was totally transparent to me.)

  2. lirone Says:

    Really beautiful… reminds me somehow of the song of songs; perhaps the use of latin to describe the beloved in unusual yet immediate ways.

  3. gautami tripathy Says:

    This week, I am getting to read a lot of sonnets. My favourite form of structured poetry!


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