The trick is to write about the body without deploying the body, which has been strained by overuse and anyway tends to make objects or corpses of us: the animals in question. And, we are such animals; my sister…
I almost always title a piece only once I have a complete first or second draft, but this time the title came first. After a series of conversations with other writers about how working at screens all day can draw us into an ether of abstraction, about how disembodying these hours of sitting and screen-gazing can be for our writing, and about the need to keep our moving, aching, breathing bodies alive on the page, I sat down to write myself some guidance.
I’m fascinated by the places and moments where words fail us—where they fall short of experience or obscure its particulars. The body is one of these sites, so I started there. But I knew I couldn’t stay there. I visited home, I let my sister interrupt, and then my parents. I kept moving and listened to what my wrists and ankles had to say. Our moving and listening brought us (and suddenly, between my sister’s limbs and mine, working and talking together, “we” felt collective and the first-person plural felt right) to the problem of wholes and parts—and our names for them. This brought me back to the body.
It was in this back-and-forth between words and flesh, language and experience, that I found the traction the piece needed. I kept pulling my attention back to lived experiences in and near the bodies I know best; at the same time, language exerted its pull on me. Tongue is both muscle and dialect. About (a word I looked up while revising, wondering if I should replace it with from) derives from a combination of the Old English word for in or on and the Old English word for outside. And I needed this doubled vision, this inside-out and outside-in perspective to write about bodies and our words for them as both subject and witness.
For me, revision always involves a lot of reading aloud and listening to what I call the “sound-feel” of a piece—noting where I trip up, noting when I need to stop and breathe. Reading aloud was especially helpful for this piece; it pushed me toward longer sentences that captured (for me at least) the feeling of being absorbed in ongoing movement like running or swimming. The process reminded me that language is integral to lived experience in my body. Words have heft and resonance—all the more reason to interrogate them.
CERIDWEN HALL is a poet and essayist from Ohio. She holds a PhD from the University of Utah and is the author of three chapbooks: Automotive (Finishing Line Press), Excursions (Trainwreck Press), and fields drawn from subtle arrows (forthcoming from GreenTower Press). Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Pembroke Magazine, Tar River Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, and other journals.