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Getting The Body Back | Women Watching Basketball | Milagros Mourns The Queen Of Scat

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 .


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