Lately, I’ve been considering the female body. As recently leaked nude celebrity photos made abundantly clear, (and as has been made abundantly clear for decades), we seem to have a cultural obsession with it. If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed I had a few things to say about the aforementioned stolen photos. I won’t rehash it now, but instead will point you in the direction of Roxane Gay, who says everything I’ve been thinking, just more eloquently.
My interest here is not to discuss these photos and why I feel no one should look at them, but rather to use them as an example. In my own writing, I try to explore femininity, and by this I really just mean what it means to be a girl, or a woman, or to identify as female. What comes with it? What are the positives and negatives? What are the situations we face in private? In public? How does being a woman inform who we are as people?
I recently published a piece of fiction that explores the idea of what it means to be a woman, though I say this with the understanding that I am still on my own journey of discovery. How does being a woman, and having a female form, mold the way we view ourselves? The world? How does it change how we are seen by the world? To be a woman in modern culture is to understand deeply that our bodies are not just our own. Our bodies are stared at, ridiculed, laughed about, lusted over, objectified, critiqued, loved, hated, shared, used for us, used against us, just plain used. What I’m interested in exploring here is its relationship to art.
CM Burroughs‘ The Vital System perfectly explores the beauty of the female body, personifying it, using it as a metaphor, discovering its intricacies and abundances. Her words are sensual and sensitive, and through her poems, we as readers begin to understand the vital nature of being, the absolute necessity of the body, the resilience it alone possesses. When she discusses love, she writes of the body, when she discusses her past, she writes of the body, when she explores sexuality, she writes of the body, and in these relations we begin to understand the interconnected nature of the body and mind, and how this connection plays a part in everything that we do.
The poem that introduces the collection, entitled Dear Incubator, opens with the lines:
At six months’ gestation, I am a fabrication born far too soon. My body, a stone in a steaming basket.
Burroughs continues, in the manner only she can, to introduce us to her at her very earliest moments, when her body was just new:
Is it your fault? I don’t know. I was in a state, I’ve explained. I don’t know what you let in… Perhaps. Do you know lovers ask about these scars. Touch these raised scars.
From the poem Clitoris, an engrossing homage to not just the body but to sexuality:
Likes it rough. Likes it
Dug. Says done right, I am fragments
Of heaven. Convinces you. Says
Let’s have you
Slide your hopeful tongue along her eyelid,
Between your lips and suck.
Breathe through your nose. Don’t
Let go. Feel her graze, her eye through your daze.
Stop. Don’t stop. This is where
She hangs. From the tongue, the tooth, the nail.
From Of A Larger Sequence
Ten years ago, when my bones were growing, she crept into my bones. A pairing knife taken to me, drawn across my forearms and calves to the veins’ exposure. The veins then, one by one, threaded from my body till the dressing was done from the bone. All this as I breathed, watched, and detected first my trepid arousal then the deadening weight as she riddled in, a tributary on flame. How to love a sister. How to want her at rest. Now she has a second name. Episode, he says. Eis. Hodos. When she was living, I called her–never mind. She is changed. Now ends. Now begins.
The collection ends with A Young Girl and a Hooded Attendant (a selection):
100, 99, 98… It doesn’t take what you think it takes
to leave the body. What it requires is that you admit
yourself, the bleak shelter of your body against
the calm… 92, 91, of what impresses your optic nerve:
Yourself, woundless. And saturating that desire
further corrected colors.
There are so many more poems from this collection I could share, but instead I’ll just encourage you to buy it.
Burroughs reminds us that the body does not need to be a source of disparagement, or an object to be gawked at and analyzed. Through her art, the body transports us: through time, memory, love, sex, discovery. Because it is always there, with us, waiting for someone to form just the right words in just the right way, to pay it the respect it deserves.