For this issue of writing from and about the body, we asked our contributors a question: What body are you part of? What’s one group, entity, larger being, place, or organism to which you belong? We got some stellar answers in reply. If you are among the body of readers who can’t abide it when a sentence ends with a preposition, we welcome you to read it as: Of what body are you part? And we welcome you to answer the question too. It’s one we’ll keep thinking about for a while.
—Anna Lena Phillips Bell
Yesterday I was wearing a big skirt and my three children decided to crawl under it, declaring me a “mommy tent.” I am someone who has never felt like I belonged in any group, and yet somehow I’ve become the head of a lumpy, giggly body—a body composed of three little bodies I made with my own body. My loneliness is overrun. There are bodies everywhere.
Lately I find myself taking up for this region I live in, this region sometimes called the South. I use its syntax—“taking up for.” I’m learning the names of its plants and trees, including the largest in my yard, a loblolly pine. These are the markers, for me, of working to make a place home, of working toward that state we call belonging.
I belong to the body of the unbroken bodies
still here past government cheese and chalk outlines,
midnight roadstops and wars I didn’t begin
I belong to the American West, which Elizabeth Gilbert describes most succinctly in her book The Last American Man: “There was a frontier, and then there was no longer a frontier. It all happened rather quickly. There were Indians, then explorers, then settlers, then towns, then cities. Nobody was really paying attention until the moment the wilderness was officially tamed, at which point everybody wanted it back.” I belong to a history of desecration, atrocity, and appropriation masquerading as epic romantic myth. I belong to these trees, plains, mountains, and rivers—which I love desperately—and to every bone buried beneath them.
A friend last night told me there is a big difference between being a resider in a place and being a dweller—in the land and nature and community. What a hopeful distinction. I’m part of the body of dwellers.
—Susan O’Dell Underwood
I am, among other sundry and various bodies, increasingly a part of the disabled body, of the paradisabled body, identity wrapped up in a smaller person I am beside.
Some may think it a solitary practice, but weaving is actually a highly collaborative process, dependent on the complex organism of which I am a small part—a social-ecological body made up of dirt, water, air, plants, worms, bugs, and many other humans: the scientists who compile the data I work with; the movement leaders who have shared knowledge with me over the years; my teachers and students; the activists protecting our water, land, air, and all who depend on those elements for life; and the many laborers who cultivate the materials with which I make my work.
I am part of the family of writers, readers, and resisters that believes attention to language is important and necessary work. A family that pays close, almost reverent attention to words and believes the stories we tell, and the ways in which we tell them, matter.
I am an Indigenous body, Onondaga always. I am a Cubana body, abuelo birthed on Havana’s fourth floor. I am a Nippon body, where kin fled across the Pacific. I am a Scots-Irish body, offspring of True Temper factory, wheelbarrow workers. I am bodied leftovers from America’s melted pot.
An essential body for me is my sisterhood of girlfriends. We are each other’s muscles, stretching and strengthening together our courage and curiosity, our gratitude and compassion, our search for justice, and our love of mischief.
—Julia Ridley Smith
I belong to the Saturday Morning Club in Boston, started by Julia Ward Howe in 1871, a women’s forum for intellectual papers, whose records are archived at Harvard University. The essays I’ve presented there have become the backbone for my memoir about family, immigration, and identity.
what body am I a part of: every body of water
Ever since the first numbness of multiple sclerosis branched from my left hand, up my arm, and down my left side when I was seventeen, I have felt—quite literally—as though I am part of a larger, permeable body, the distinctions between my skin and my environment porous, the world entering and passing through me as I seep into it, nearly osmotic. After all, if I couldn’t tell the difference between a strand of hair and the elastic I was using to contain it, or the difference between a hand on my leg and a piece of fabric, what border could stand between me (my body and self) and the horses I cared for, the wind or plants that brushed past me? I think that is what brought me to poetry, to watery metaphor without clear distinctions between tenor and vehicle: the lack of a distinct outline, the feeling of passing into and through, and at the mercy of, or part of, a greater whole.
—Laurie Clements Lambeth
I am definitively part of the ecosystem of Appalachia and its rich, complicated history. Living (and writing) in the southern mountains means surrendering yourself to a gorgeous, infuriating, vulnerable, and uniquely powerful ecology.
I’m part of the body of writers whose days jobs appear to be a good many paces away from writing. More specifically, I’m part of a body of physician-writers—turns out this is a day job that is both great and terrible for the actual practice of writing.
With two young children, I often feel my body belongs to them in ways both awesome and unsettling. In the body of my family, I have a clear purpose as caretaker. I’ve been thinking about what that obligation means in larger contexts, especially when other entities—like the U. S. government—fail in this regard.
—Bethany Schultz Hurst
Today, I’m driving to the next town to teach the art of making. Moving 65 miles per hour beside alfalfa fields, I am rushing. Still aware of my flesh as a variation of earth, which I will return to eventually—rank and meaty, then as dust. I am probably breathing some bodies. Never enough time. Lateness is my body. I am torn from source for meaning (mind) to be woman, to be brown—I have not mastered these bodies. I almost hit the guardrail when I see a bald eagle fly across a creek and land in a pine.
—Amber Flora Thomas
I am part of the homebody politic.
I come from ma and she from ma, and ah, grand ma from great, and so be ma ma ma ma from an infinite ma, a diaphanous ma, an imperceptible great grain extending into ma, all this we-ma—for ma and ma the ma can see, I am.