Marisa de los Santos
Getting The Body Back
I began, not with passion, but as if I'd become a neglected garden, tumbled hedges, greens spilling over into other greens, snarled morning glory vine pitching itself outward and skyward along messy David Teague trajectories of longing, a thing you sigh over, then set about setting right. My torso looked like--let's face it--no garden, but a sack newly emptied, slack, soft as pitted fruit. I faced it, and out of long habit of believing in the purity of some forms over others, placed panic carefully aside and began to work. I "worked out," a turn of phrase that cast my body as a math problem, or suggested gestation, birth, those intricate months could be worked out of me like silver from a rock. I climbed stairs leading nowhere, bicycled equally nowhere and skied cross-country in a vast room lit like morning. For an hour a day, I inhabited evocative verbs--"crunch", "sculpt", "burn"--muscles straining, nerves, every one, secretly straining toward the infant, weeks-old and a mile away. He slept or cried in other arms. Like most recoveries, this one was gradual; like most, there was a day when it felt sudden, when looking in the mirror was like flinging open a door. The old body stood there, framed, the prodigal daughter, tired-eyed and back. Days later, I feel wrongness like a faint chill, a shallow bruise. Who can foresee the shape of loss? I look like nothing ever happened. And the baby, aglow in his sleeve of separateness, turns his head toward his own name, rests his long-lashed regard on one lucky object, then the next, and pulls the world to his mouth. He is testament to no one's experience but his. Unmarked, I walk out with him through a city full of markers, history in streetside wrought iron. Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross lived here of course, but even Hair Extraordinaire on Twelfth announces it was once the home of sculptor Meta Fuller, a student of Rodin, whose works "depicted human suffering". How is it nothing marks the site of what was-- if too common to be miracle--surely a collection of improbables? I'm dazzled at the wisdom of the cells, their knowing the one right way to split and split, and then arrange themselves in such exquisite clusters: an eye as complex as a planet; a spine so specifically a spine, thirty-three vertebrae, no more, no less, rigid bone linked into suppleness. And the heart? The force that set its open-shut in motion, I'm unqualified to ponder. If the past isn't past, the living body's past must be even less so. Take Arthur Bell, black, homeless, seventy-one, found wandering in Brooklyn, his feet nearly frozen, whose rantings about having danced with the Ballets de la Tour Eiffel turned out to be truth. For a few weeks, I read about him everywhere, a fairy tale complete with Paris, lighting, costumes, and music rising delicate as perfume from the pit. Of his recent past, Bell could piece together little, but when the photographers asked, he swept one arm upward, hand floating, fingers faultlessly arranged, and tilted back his head, a stillness that contained motion, a pose that said, "These are the same arms, the same shoulders, this the same long neck." As if grace lives, a tour jete under the skin. As if an ordinary woman stepping into ordinary sun is at the same time and unto death a story of creation. As if? Forget "as if." She is.
Women Watching Basketball
For us, five writers, it's partly to do with the language, little spells, hyphenated, elegant lingo, words swirling like whiskey in the mouth: pump-fake, post-up, two-guard, pick-and-roll. We are casual. Like Whitman--who'd have been a fan for sure, adoring and bearded, tossing his hat in the air for the Knicks--we speak passwords primeval, we enter this world and belong. With adamant hands, we argue calls, how best to beat the double-team, the beauty of an inside-outside game. And, too, it's the players themselves that attract us, their lives, loose- linked fragments of story each of us seeks and collects: the guard's murdered father, the tranquil center's Muslim faith, ten-thousand winter coats the rookie gave to children. But, still, it's more than all that. Oh, how to explain why you love what you love? Picture time-lapse photography, the certain outward opening of flowers, one circle of petals at a time, a smooth unfisting called to life by notes sounded somewhere in the clenched heart, the thirsty root-tips, the body of the moist earth. Exhalation of a long-held breath. Green stem, delicate tendon, twisting toward the sun. Because it's like that, a little, the turn-around fade-away jumper. Though we know the ethereal nicknames: Magic, Dream, Air, what we want most is pure corpus, sharp tug of tricep and hamstring, five fingers' grip on the ball--hard, perfect star-- back muscles singing, glorious climb through the air. We imagine it this way: to dunk would be life from the bones out, would be to declare, Divine is the flesh! and for once to believe it, believe it.
Milagros Mourns The Queen Of Scat
Cebu City, Philippines
It is the same each time. Daylight a broad blade across the floor, then thin, then gone, the door shutting behind her, the dimness undisturbed. This church is cool if anyplace is cool and almost empty. A few prayers, soft moths, hover above a few bent heads. She kneels, a series of flinches. Milagros misses --sharply--grace, her body's old amplitude, misses, too, a woman, an American, she knew only as a voice, a story in a magazine, photographs. In one, a man beside her holds a trumpet, and she makes singing look like laughter. From one, her eyes gaze out, swimming, behind glasses. The Virgin, blue vertical, occupies a corner, hands lifted slightly and turned up, as if to demonstrate their emptiness. Her face is inward as an almond. The singer also had a son, Milagros remembers, and wonders, suddenly, about the soul and those long intervals, bridges of pure sound, spontaneous, leaping free from words. Voice of cold evenings, fur-collared coats, glittering towers, snow. Voice of dancing. Voice a refusal of death. She heard it and felt the atoms of her body shimmer, along with all the struck, shimmering atoms of the air. Voice like pomelo, mango, jackfruit, papaya, voice like slow ripening, gold juice, orange meat. Voice changeful as water. Milagros knows it is her own voice, the one she never used. When she walks home, her feet will displace dust into the air; her dress, a long fall of cotton, purple and yellow batik, with a square neck, will swing below her clavicle. She will buy warm, dense rolls and eat one as she walks. She will shout and shake a stick at dogs. It's time to leave. Milagros stands. Slight exahalations rise from the candles, each one breathing miracle .