I have been told I should love you.
I have been asked why I hate you.
Love and hate: the extremities of emotion. What I feel toward you is neither, yet both: extreme in its measure of complexity rather than its static position on an axis.
When it comes to their bodies, even poets vacillate between love:
Clifton swinging her jazzy hips;
Piercy belly bumping her lover;
Whitman singing the body electric…
Roethke’s “rags of anatomy”,
Amichai betrayed by hair’s sprouting and Corso by it’s routing;
countless unnamed others using their words to reach an armistice on this war’s very personal front…
If much of humanity swings on that pendulum, loving you and hating you, how am I to reconcile my own internal tug of war?
I am proud of you:
The vigor of muscle and bone, their strength;
The tenacity of heart and lungs, their endurance;
The willingness to rise to the occasion when I mistreated you and, again, when I needed you to recover myself.
Am I also ashamed of you?
I keep you covered from the eyes of others;
I avert my own gaze in bath and dressing rooms;
I refuse the sleeveless and eschew summer beaches.
Or is what seems to be shame, instead, a self-protective instinct? A desire to hold safe and sacred “this skin, this sac of dung and joy” described by yet another poet*? Am I afraid that eyes will see not the triumph,but the scarred aftermath of the battle we waged to regain wholeness?
Will see not your death-defying resilience, but the false, sagging appearance of its opposite?
I am not touting this ambivalence as either good or bad. I’m attempting to come to terms with the “what is”
As opposed to the “what I wish it was”.
It’s one of the things you, my own body, have taught me:
What IS is always infinitely greater than we anticipate,
While also often less than we hope for.
If I need a reason to hate you, that might be enough.
In the end, though, we’re in this together. Wherever we go, however I feel about you.
If I need a reason to love you, that ought to suffice.
Note: This piece was written as an exercise for my writer’s group – our assignment: to “write a toast to someone or something important to you”. Thanks to the Rider Writers for the inspiration, and the encouragement to experiment.
* The poem quoted, above (“…this skin, this sac of dung & joy”) is Yusef Komunyakaa. Here’s a link to his poem, “Anodyne” – a must-read exploration of body-love! I love his closing, which I quote here in case you don’t go to the poem in its entirety:
I love this body, this
solo & ragtime jubilee
behind the left nipple,
because I know I was born
to wear out at least
one hundred angels.