from A Field Guide to the Body in Need by Erin M. Bertram
“You would let loose your longing.”—Sappho
Everything can break, but that doesn’t mean it will.
The bones of the face, the forearm, the wrist.
The ground the legs walk on.
The knot of pulpy twine we unthinkingly call the heart.
From the car window, a sky weighted with rain, darkness as when you add a grey wash to a stretch of watered-down blue.
The moment before the sky opens up & stays that way.
It stays that way.
So we touch each other at night, reach through the darkness as if through cloudy water, kneading each other, slowly, like fine-silted clay.
There are others for which we board red-eyes, sleep-clogged & without a second thought.
The plane lifts its heavy body into the air.
And from the window, we watch as a field of thistle & prairie grass sways in the distance, & the sunflowers along the highway bow as the wind has its way.
The sound of it—the wind, all this growing & breaking—barely audible.
VULNERABLE, late Latin for “to wound.”
Faces warmed damp by the sun, her hand resting on my leg.
Always the weight of the subjunctive mood.
The body falls, then breaks, every time.
And, every time, we teach it—foolish, fumbling thing—to get right back up again.
Consider the body of the beloved—forever uncharted territory, familiar as your own face or hands.
An X-marks-the-spot in a world vast with unknowns.
There are places on her body I know the way I know all that’s absent of words, a silence so big it demands no extra room, no added floor space or cathedral-ceilinged rooms.
MAP comes from the medieval Latin meaning “sheet of the world.”
Oh, to carry the expanse of the world in the pocket of your jeans.
And isn’t that what love is, a map to chart the coming days, elevation shaded in, terrain gone over with a fine black pen, tracing contours & watering holes, valley deep, mountain high, a compass rose in the corner to point the way?
When she touches my cheek, time bends back upon itself, a bow not yet released.
Heart big as a small wooden boat, I’m a pilgrim lighting out on a strange, forgiving sea.
Come with me, dear friend.
Let me lie beside you watching the clouds until the earth covers us and we are gone.
There is no place where the terrain of the body is not mapped out across the land.
But if you kiss the back of your hand without making a sound, birds will come.
Here, the field spotted with deer
Here is the bent way we meet each other daily: the photographs, the party hats, the traitor in her comfortable brown shoes.
For now, we are so young.
Here is the center of me with a little red flag waving in the wind by a lake, a small
lake, for everyone to drink from.
And nobody is ever lonely.
August pear, pocket-knife, sweet grain rolled around the tongue.
We watch the light change through the open window, color the bed sheets by growing quietly, simply, together, in the dark.
We bend to the light between the trees.
Wear desire like a garment.
Holler our names into the wind.
If I make of my hands a temple—incense, votive, blocks of cool stone, the vocal bow chanting makes of the air—should I, then, also, reach for the braided rope, ring the
QUIETUDE, late Latin for “rest.”
Lay down your heavy head.
Take off the weight of the day.
Evening, the darkness, this time, bears a softness to it.
My head on her chest, laying, not lying, not wanting, not wondering, having
removed, finally, anxiety’s heavy hood.
She hums, softly, when I grow to be a poppy in the graveyard, I will send you all my love upon the breeze.
BODY, from the German for “corpse,” the Proto-Indo-European “to be awake,” “to
What spectacular we have spooled up tightly inside us.
Nightly, the stars revolve above our heads like giant, complex mobiles.
When she’d asked, from the passenger seat, what I’d wanted, what warm or shiny thing would suffuse me with joy, I said nothing.
Instead, the wind moved up & down my body through the open window.
Through the trees.
A red-winged blackbird dipped by with its neon wing, nothing but gravel between us & the fields lining the highway.
I told her I wanted her hand between my legs, nestled & still like a sleeping animal.
Like some silent, trusting thing.
As if language—in its falconry, its matching dress, its stammering—could keep the winds at bay.
As if a lover’s body were the pitch & sway of the sea, or the damp, reassuring peat of the earth.
Because it is.
Note: Sources adapted include: Wordnik (“body,” “quietude”), the New Oxford American Dictionary (“map,” “vulnerable”), Jeanette Winterson’s novel Written on the Body, and My Brightest Diamond’s song “I Have Never Loved Someone.”
Erin M. Bertram is the author of ten chapbooks, most recently Memento Mori, and an excerpt from her hybrid text manuscript “The Vanishing of Camille Claudel” was a published finalist in the 2013 Diagram Essay Contest. The former drummer for the folk rock band Busted Chandeliers, she is a Teaching Assistant and Chancellor’s Fellow in the PhD in Creative Writing program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a member of the Lincoln Zen Center. [erinmbertram.com]