The body. Your body, my body, our bodies are a problem. Whether we’re talking about degeneration and decay or the limitations placed on our lives through the social meanings attached to our bodies; our bodies are, have always been, and will always be a problem. Our bodies make us want things. They make us need, and they set parameters around the strategies we can use to meet those needs. Failure is pain and agony. How lucky are we that we can dissociate to free our consciousness, however temporarily, from the experience of being in our bodies.
There are so many ways to deny the body. We can go to war with it through exercise or radical modification; we can punish it through abstinence; numb it with substance abuse; or dream of transcending it altogether through religious or technological means. Scientists and tech-dreamers talk to us today of up-loadable consciousness—a triumph not altogether different from the “mortification of the flesh” early Christians hoped would lead to a spiritual transcendence of that putrid corporeal death we all face. The desire to escape the source of desire seems natural, or at least a firmly established cultural tradition.
Writers have established their own tradition when it comes to the body. They grit their teeth and stay in the uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable experience of their character’s body. Writers don’t break experience into bullet points, slide presentations, or reductive theories. Their work is always larger than that because they do not hide from this essential part of living. The works collected here will bring you into encounters with the body. I invite you to let them in, to feel them, and to accept the pain and euphoria of being an embodied creature.
Alexander B. Hogan, Managing Editor
Shrine by Shelley Elkovich
The week in Baja was a bust. Theresa had supposed the change in scenery would initiate marital repair, but instead of drinking too much wine, saying too little at the dinner table at home, they drank too many margaritas in preparation for awkward sex in a rented casita.
Broken-topped palms studded the roads, refuse from demolition littered vacant lots—Hurricane Odile had smashed the region only nine months earlier. Too, nine months had passed since Steve disclosed his affair, a cheap convention adventure. So banal. She hated him for that. But she was pragmatic: one didn’t tear down a well-built life in response to a five-day fling in Philadelphia, for god’s sake.
They were having dinner under their palapa, which faced the ocean. She forked the snapper, charred just short of inedible. “I wish you’d bought a goddamned Porsche or something.”
“Me too, Ter.”
Theresa smeared avocado-papaya salsa onto the dry fish, splashed more margarita from the pitcher he prepared. He’d needed to confess to her, though she was the ex-Catholic, he the atheist. She wouldn’t provide absolution, but she would rebuild. Or so she had thought. Maybe the trip was a mistake. What did they really hope to get from this week, aside from sunburns and hangovers? Mission accomplished.
There was some sex when the dosage of tequila was well calibrated, but it was basically the same shit, different setting. She was self-conscious in bed, a symptom of their marital sickness. That was how she sometimes viewed it: a sickness that would pass. Steve packed a travel bottle of lube, and for this she was grateful: perimenopause combined with spousal infidelity had a desiccating effect.
Wind rattled the flimsy dining palapa. Steve rushed from the table to look at a bird. She took a bite of sautéed prickly pear, wondering if she simply needed more time. Would she eventually stop seething, stop wondering why he’d risked their marriage? Or had it even been a risk? Perhaps he had done the calculus, understood as she had even in her shock and hurt, that she wouldn’t leave him over this. After the confession, he was solicitous. He would bring her coffee in the morning—she would restrain herself from flinging the hot, milky liquid onto his face, his shirt, his lap.
In their twenty-one years together they had known happiness, companionable ease. She would not allow his foolishness to make her question whether they had been happy. If anything, she could prove past happiness by noting its absence these nine months.
“A gray thrasher,” he said as he returned to the table.
The sky turned gaudy as they drained their margaritas. They washed the dishes, bumping into each other in the tiny kitchen. The East Cape was chilly at night, so after a solar-powered shower Theresa crawled under the duvet, once again leaving the lacy scraps of lingerie in the suitcase. They switched on their headlamps and turned to their paperbacks.
She dreamed he was body surfing. His lean swimmer’s body skimmed the waves and his hair, still mostly black, gleamed in the sea foam. A strange wave—a monster wave—rose, caught him. She jumped to her feet. For long moments she couldn’t see him at all until, stripped of his trunks, he staggered onto the beach. His torso was bloodied, exposing his beating blue heart. He collapsed on the sand. She tried to run to him, but her feet churned, burying themselves with each step in the pebbly mix until, at last, she cradled his head, looked into his sand-barnacled face. Water spurted from his mouth and his stormy blue eyes filmed over with the cataracts of the dead.
She woke with wet cheeks, heart palpitating. There: his breathing, sleeping body. She slipped into her short robe, splashed water on her face, and brewed the coffee as the cactus wrens shook their gravelly maracas.
It was their last full day in Mexico. The plan was to drive along the remote road, do some birding in the thorn scrub, a picnic, maybe some tidepooling. He didn’t notice the tremor in her hand as she served him the coffee.
“Up early.” He smiled. When they were first together, she had loved how he smiled upon waking.
She was applying sunscreen to her chest when he came behind her, encircled her waist, rested his chin on her shoulder. His eyes in the bathroom mirror were unclouded.
They meandered along the dirt track, going slowly to avoid bottoming out in the huge potholes, also to better spot birds. They stopped to identify a mixed flock in the thorn scrub. Once they had the Belding’s yellowthroat, she wandered away. As he crept along the boulders, binoculars in hand, she continued down the road toward a small concrete block structure. There was no sign of habitation and it seemed too close to the road to be a dwelling. She hadn’t seen any beachside bathhouses anywhere along this less-touristed stretch of the East Cape. It was painted a fading royal blue, with a flaking but still bright crimson stripe along the flat roofline. Atop the roof were the omnipresent protrusions of rusted rebar, but also an angel. A shred of cirrus hung over her head like a halo. She must have been formed from cement, but she glowed like porcelain against the sky. Theresa clambered onto a boulder to get a better look. Finely wrought, her hair was sculpted in ridged waves, which were echoed in the Fortuny-like pleats swirling in her gown, and her folded wings created a “C” shape, a curved shelter against the wind at her back. She held a star—a sea star? Perhaps it was a wind-damage pit, but she appeared to have a dimple in her chin. How could this figure, this structure, be undamaged in the hurricane-hammered region?
Feeling like a trespasser, holding her breath as she crossed the threshold, Theresa’s eyes adjusted to the dim interior. Photographs, wreaths of artificial flowers, and crude wooden crosses covered the walls. The floor was heaped with plastic toys, many still in their original packaging. On the wall opposite the door was a stucco portrait of a woman. A folding TV tray in front of the portrait served as an altar, upon which a bottle of tequila was placed among glass Guadalupe votives. One candle still burned. A wall-mounted peg-rail held articles of clothing: a yellowed christening gown on a tiny satin-covered hanger, a crocheted turquoise acrylic baby blanket, a pink ruffled hibiscus print swimsuit–size 2T. There were rosaries, Mardi Gras beads, and faux flowers in every hue. A stethoscope dangled over a plastic camo-colored miniature machine gun propped against the wall.
Sooty paraffin smoke mixed with the tangy ocean breeze blowing through the small window. Her dream—the violence of the waves, his exposed blue heart—crashed into her vision.
Footsteps on the gravel. Steve stood silhouetted in the doorway.
“A shrine,” he said, hushed.
Then he leaned against the windowed wall, holding her gaze for a long moment. Her heart shook its cage. She stepped out of her skirt, her panties, and came at him fiercely, pressing him against the wall. He dropped his binoculars. She tasted his sunscreen, the malty Negra Modelo he had with their picnic lunch. She pressed against him until she felt his surprised stirring. She wrapped her legs around his waist and he cupped his hands on her ass. Her knees scraped cement. Over his shoulder, out the window, the water was calm. The beachy wind stung her eyes.
Then they were finished. His eyes were wet. Silently he gave her his handkerchief to wipe up. He retrieved his binoculars, extended his free hand toward her.
“In a minute. Go ahead out.”
Theresa knelt at the makeshift altar below the weathered fresco, its image a woman, middle-aged but with pinkened cheeks and tired brown eyes, looking out from the mold-bloomed stucco. She needed to leave something, but what did she have? Her pockets were empty. Theresa stood, dripping a little into her panties, and twisted off her warm wedding ring, placed it gently on top of the TV tray, the gold gleaming in the light of the single, guttering flame.
IUD Insertion by Daryl Sznyter
& here I am
sundress folded back at the hips
panties scrunched to ankles
knees knocking together
along with the radio
shaky hands wound up & icy
with the biting shame
of a catholic school spanking
or a period in khaki pants
or an std
& here he is
scent of anesthetic & coffee
rubber smoother & thicker
than the blood in my womb
ready to hollow me out & insert
a boomerang on a string
he calls our indiscretions
doin’ the wild thang
opens me up like a painting
& I scream
& there you are
making yourself small in the corner
white knight to my wasted ovaries
paler & sicker than my tissue
a face miraculously empty
you slide me from the table
as soon as he lets you
& ask the nurse for a napkin
to wipe my thighs with
PLAIN SIGHT by Eric Pankey
The moment marooned with its shadow
Is viewed one frame at a time
But the sequence of events
The implied continuity is no less sure
What with the glitches and slippages
The still point blurred by a bad splice
The uneven terrain that is memory
The horizon soldered with gold
Is a mere embellishment of happenstance
In the Key West Cemetery
In the shade of an above-ground vault
A red hen pecks among the gravel
Somewhere a rooster crows
Crows again as if unheard unheeded
Little sliver of moon the sky powdered graphite
Late dark not black but tarnished silver
Abstract effects on a figurative ground
As a starting point a coordinate grid
Stars and more stars a shiver and flicker
Of points set down along intersections of x and y
Boats bob and nod each mast describes an arc
Clouds disperse and regenerate
Out of emptiness change the field notes
Fail to record although much is not set down
The underside of some clouds storm-dark
Inky like an over-exposed negative
Each brush-mark delible wiped away in time
With subsequent turpentine washes
In the distance lines dissolve
The foreground is unruly with detail
The specter of disorder is less an idea
Than order since order takes no ghostly form
In plain sight a dragonfly hovers
A scorpion skitters from a sidewalk crack
Alarmed armed as it makes a retreat