Some truths we think we know. Then we actually live them. For me, one such truth is: “All places exist in the body.” I first fell in love with this concept in 1995 at U.C. Berkeley when a poetry teacher of mine mentioned it.
In the class, I wrote a short piece about a guy I’d been absolutely nuts about when I was very young—this poem was economical, but full of dreamy sensuality and ribs rising, and concluded with a kind of hazy philosophizing that nothing was really lost if “all things exist in the body.” I changed “places” to “things” thinking there was really no difference.
But I didn’t know then that remembering with the body means more than a breathless nostalgic lust, or the addled mind throwing the mostly forgotten body a bone.
All places exist in the body. The distinction matters.
When my father died, leaving the house I had known and loved and returned to for 44 years to his mentally unbalanced wife, I became an exile. We’re all exiles. We were born exiles, after all. But we live here a while and we forget. Then someone dies or the door forever closes on some beloved place.
I learned that losing a place does not feel the same as losing a person. And while I know better than to apply linear timelines to grief, when the initial shock and frequent, exhausting crying jags over my father subsided, the house, the fields, the woods moved in.
They took residence in my body in a way that memories of the dead never have. The opposite of an exorcism, a new settling began. I now understood that properly remembered, a well was also a throat, that doors were breasts, that the lifting of old latches, the bark of disappeared trees, all the obscure pleasures of warm mud and cold stone had to have some place to go. But not to become projections–the ever-thinning, forever looping films of the mind. These things had to go where they could grow, a place where all the restless spirits of habit could find their place.
This kind of remembering, this very physical presence that aligns the outside with the inside, so much that teeth take on the silent weight of stone walls, this kind of memory-as-occupation feels at times almost supernatural. I tried to tame it with a poem:
A moon-bright field raises hairs on the arms.
Wrists go numb remembering dark brooks.
Horses become instinct, thirst.
What it can no longer return to
in the old way, the body rebuilds, reclaims
as if to say: there was always only here.
Is this wholeness at last?
The translation of all loved things
to their essence
The barn less brick
than silence that agreed for a time
to gather itself into manger and beam
The poem ends, but the house still shows up. What does it want of me? There is no danger of forgetting.
Maybe only a simple transmission of information, the declaration of an obscure fact:
On the cellar walls, long ago strangers recorded snowfalls in soft pencil, along with recipes for elderberry wine. We added to these our own statistics of startling snowfalls, how much fell, how little stayed. In the barn, the births and deaths of horses are written in blue on the inside door of a hay strewn cupboard.
I don’t know what this means. Carried in the body, it no longer even feels like a memory, just a code that if finally broken, might save someone else.