Terrains of the Body – #22

August 14

1. What is it that I was thinking just now? Was it something about my village and the house where I used to live when I lived there? I was just there again after so many years. Things had changed. I didn’t want them to have changed. It all looked dusty to me, like a layer of time’s dirt had settled on the place. The new memory is like an old film-still. I’m trying to recover the older memory, retrace my thought-steps, can’t quite get purchase . . .

2. I remembered it as bright. but now it’s dull. I remembered it as musical with my little boy’s laugh; now it’s quiet. And the house across the street was quiet too; I called and called and no one came. It was as if everyone had died. They were at a cremation. It’s the season. How many of the people I knew then were being burned that day? When I saw Dewa Ayu, the first thing she did after hugging me was to list everyone who is now dead.

3. I remembered it as green -the grass I planted in the yard where there had been gravel. The orchids vining up the trees, the torch ginger, huge ferns, wild things. Now I see it has been paved a long time. When I lived there, I brought the raw into the cooked, the wild into the tame. When I left they tore it all out, leaving only the mango trees. I upended things. I was dangerous. I didn’t know it. I need to find dangerous in myself again. I’ve hobbled danger now a long time.

4. I keep thinking about watching a film . . . .

5. Now I remember. It was Picasso’s portrait of his wife – her two eyes on one side of her face, flounder-like, with a prominent nose. It sticks in my mind that someone questioned his love or attraction for his wife, or suggested he was angry with her, or she should have been angry with him after seeing her portrait.

But just the other day I understood his perspective in a flash of insight (has everyone realized this?) when you and I were nose to nose, forehead to forehead, and you looked like that to me (and I must have to you). I thought of you and her and about Picasso’s attention. And I thought – he saw her as she really was to him in that moment. Instead of letting the conventional portrait of the mind stand in for the specific and situated view, he really looked and saw and later remembered what he saw well enough to record the view in paint.

The body, the face, become vistas we can look around, terrains of the eye, still lifes that are fresh and strange when they stay specific to space and time. We experience this dynamic of the strange-specific more accurately through touch don’t we? We know that we can always hardly remember the contours of the bodies we know well – if they are in repose – the child, the lover, the self. Knowing eludes us until the body moves. We can doubt. Then motion-idiosyncracy-memories settle on the body to become legible as the person we know. I remember your specific response to my touch on your skin more than your specific skin. I know you by your habit of gesture, your routines of movement. We have to trace familiar bodies over and over. How much time would have to pass before we would become unsure, before we would question our familiarity with that intimate surface we think we remember?

4. I understand it now, the connections. I am remembering watching a film as a child. It’s a portrait. It’s a still life. It’s not a still life, nor is it a portrait. It’s a story, a tiny event. The person is dead. You can tell by the vacancy. And you can tell by the fly. The cheek is cradled by the ground. The ear is hidden there in the cradling earth, listening forever. The fly skirts the nostril, as if loitering near a door considering. (Which God uses the nostrils as its door? I used to know that when I was reading about meditation maps described in old Javanese palm leaf manuscripts. The god enters the body by the nose-door, then travels its preferred road and takes its seat in one of the organs. I don’t remember which road, which organ. I only remember that one of them went there in that way, by that door.) The fly goes into the nose. Maybe it comes back out, goes back in. Maybe it doesn’t come back out. The body as interior terrain was a revelation. I had never thought of bodies as full of spaces flies can explore if we are dead and there is no one to enshroud us, to protect our bodies’ doors and roads and rooms (with furniture) where only God’s can sit, and flies.

6. Of course this prompts heretical questions.

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