I like my body when it walks in the backyard.
I like my body when it stands next to its daughter, who is taller than it.
I like my body when it gets tattooed or pierced.
I like my body when it grows hair on its legs.
I like my body when heat blooms in its chest.
I like my body when it has orgasms.
I like my body when it hears music.
I like my body when it is resting, sleeping, dreaming, waking.
I like my body when its mouth waters.
I like my body when its mouth speaks.
Italy was filled with new old things.
I had strange money in my pocket; words made of arching syllables and round vowels were being spoken in my voice. The square was made of stainless steel and cobblestone. We had wine with our working lunches in the cafeteria.
I felt like an explorer.
There was so much I didn’t know. Like how you were supposed to carry your passport everywhere. Like how you shouldn’t use large bills. Like how not to let the boss, an ancient and ailing man, get too close.
I never told anyone. And I never went back.
Rana is a tiny, blond eight-year-old with persistently bruised knees and a lisp. After church, we sat in a Sunday school classroom coloring cardboard Easter eggs with markers. We talked about her favorite book, how unfair it was that her brother went to the dinosaur museum, and what she wished she could have for supper.
“Ice cream!” she shouted.
A murky memory surfaced of myself at her age, lighting our gas oven with a wooden match.
I studied her hands with their fragile fingers streaked with Spring colors, thinking: give her all the markers. All the museums. All the sweets.
My family began a “Things We Are Grateful For!” list, and stuck it to the refrigerator. We add to it anything we wish, without judgment or questions.
The entries are what you’d expect: our (now deceased) dog, the friendly woman, Valerie, who works at Taco Bell, cream horns from Stan’s Bakery, and the authors who’ve written our favorite books.
I’ve got my own gratitude list that I won’t hang up. On it is solitude. Sleeping alone. Single-serve wine bottles in a handy carrying case. On it is kissing. Singing harmony to the radio. My body, though changing, still feels bliss.
There is a particular spot on the east bank of the pond.
When we reach it we stop, stand, consider
The neighboring field, over the fence,
Butting up to the timber.
My dog is especially solemn.
It’s a serious business, this.
Smells are tendrils on the wind, and he
Brings his nose up to meet them,
Parsing with a long neck and square chest.
I would try it too, if I were built that way,
But as it is, I’m fine not knowing
What creatures walk and eat and die there,
Who haunts the trees and hides among the grasses.
When I was ten, I practically lived at my best friend’s house. She had an attic bedroom with three big windows, and a blue parakeet in a cage she’d cover at night.
I told my parents I wanted a parakeet, too. We’d had to give away our dog, who’d bite everyone who wasn’t my mom, and cats were out of the question.
My dad said no. He thought I was just copying my friend, which was probably correct. But when I look back, I can so easily see that our house was no place for the innocent energy of animals.
It occurs to me that the idea of “The Gaze” is a tricky one, when contemplating artworks and those who view them, because there is at once the Human Gaze, which we as persons experience as a collective, then the Gendered Gaze, where individuals encounter artwork as men, women, non-binary or agender, then the Aged Gaze, which considers the completely arbitrary measuring device of years alive on earth, not to mention the Race Gaze, the Colonized Gaze, and the Marginalized Gaze, all of which happen parallel to the Reflected Gaze, where the (inanimate and unconscious (?)) artwork itself regards the viewer.
It would be easy. No one would know, or care.
I could walk into the kitchen and open the bottle in the fridge. Is it a pinot grigio? Or a chablis? No matter. I’ll get my favorite glass, a few ice cubes, and give myself a pour that passes for modest.
The oncologist recommends against it. My father’s alcoholism recommends against it. A college friend, who left me a drunk and rambling voicemail, recommends against it.
My face burns, thinking about it. My mouth waters.
I do walk into the kitchen. I fill the kettle, and set it to boil.
The woman is asked if there is a part of her she has lost.
In a moment, it’s defined: a cartwheel.
She’d been a gymnast in her childhood and early teens. She filled every moment with cartwheels, handstands, leaps; there was always some climbing, flipping, or tumbling to be done. She was comfortable upside down. Muscles did what she demanded, and ankles and wrists could be depended upon. Her body had made shapes that felt beautiful.
The woman, who is me, looks down at her calf, her thigh, her shoulder. She traces her skin, recalling the backbend that lived underneath.
I have a horizontal scar on my breast about an inch long, marking the spot where the surgeon reached in and pulled out a cancerous tumor last year.
I like it. It’s straight and skin colored, not angry, puckered, or jagged. It’s the perfect slot for a pocket square, or a button hole where a man might slip a flower to decorate his lapel. It could be a runway where planes take off, or the top of a bookshelf where my favorite novel lives. It could be a window waiting to be opened, or a sleeping ocean ready to wake.