“Body My House My Horse My Hound” – The Whole by Its Parts, Part II




In May Swenson‘s poem “Question,” she asks:

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

To come closer to understanding something (in the felt as well as in the sensed sense), sometimes it helps to see a part apart. Loss or distance can allow us to feel and sense more acutely: to see anew what had been blindly with us all along. So with the body — and more poems of its parts: Jeanne Bryner‘s hands — Sara Michas-Martin‘s brain — Zachary Schomburg‘s not-quite-typical lung (in love) — and May Swenson‘s physically meta house horse and hound.

* * * * *

That they are slaves.
That each tendon’s a rope
and the knuckles are the pulleys.
That their white bones
line up like pieces of broken chalk…

begins the riddle-like incantation of Jeanne Bryner‘s poem “In Praise of Hands,” in her book Tenderly Lift Me: Nurses Honored, Celebrated, and Remembered. (Poems from this book have also been developed into a ballet: “Lift, Breathe, Carry.”)

When Bryner read this poem at the Vermont Studio Center, she asked the audience to all hold hands. So we did, along the rows and over the pew-like seating, until we became aware of the room as full of hands, belonging to friends and strangers, connected in small but tender gesture. Then when the poem began, declaring that the hands are slaves — the room burst open in a kind of revelation. Throughout the poem we as the driver of hands are both implicated in their hardship and blessed by their toil and strangeness, more through the hands’ own grace than our own.

That they are so beautiful
a moon has landed on each finger.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

That they are trained
for harps and hired for murder.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

That they struggle
because of their great strength.
They are able to heal themselves.

(Before the reading, Bryner recalled that the inspiration to write this poem came while attending a play of “The Grapes of Wrath” with her husband — when she noticed that his hands were so swollen from arthritis that they were unable to clap.)

That they know what it means
to draw the water
and work without pay.
That they will hide our eyes…

* * * * *

…The brain is the color
of the road, of the Midwest gloom
that hangs in the spindle left of trees
past winter. I carry that hue inside me
like clay-scented air. I was raised
there, and it’s one kind of tether…

In Sara Michas-Martin‘s poem “The Empty Museum” (making its debut in the recent Spring 2009 issue of FIELD), a human brain, “plumbed from a cadaver” and encountered in a jar, coils and gleams both physically and metaphorically under the speaker’s adept and roving observations. Behold:

I ask if I can touch the brain,
maybe hold it, and when I do its weight
tests the give of both hands. I think of bowling
and watermelons floating in a pool, an infant
translating the blast of shadows
that enter a room.

Or the strangeness of the brain in action when combined with its “person” — “A person travels / with a net collecting for the factory. / A person passes a window / and feeds on the view.” Or its eventual existence without its person: “I think of a government / that’s lost its country.”

And the closing of Michas-Martin’s poem exhibits with one of the weirdest and lovely images of what it means to be a mind, not just a brain:

…If this pile,
folded, inscrutable, were alive
I imagine a table littered with jewelry,
and the light jumping all over it.

* * * * *

At a Halloween party, a lung went as a haircut, and a haircut went as a lung. They got along famously. They became inseparable. The haircut had a shit brown Silverado and he often let the lung drive it. The lung played the piano while eating pancakes, a feat unmatched by any other lung, and the haircut could make the best pancakes.

Ok, it’s not just about a lung. It’s about true love, death, and “planes landing carefully in the distance, one right after the other, in perfect intervals.” It’s about losing you, and one of the most romantic poems I’ve ever read. And the lung is the heart of it. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but check it out (“The Lung and Haircut”) in Zachary Schomburg‘s book The Man Suit.

* * * * *

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

Thank you, May Swenson.


Thank you, starry detail of a mouse lung.mouselungdetails1