At first women felt with their organs (only much later did it occur to anyone to fear)

A woman alone in a forest sees others moving beyond the shadow of the trees.  Heart thuds, pulse quickens, breath shortening.  Sweat.  Her organs press her into a future whose intensity is the present, the will-be-/-will-have-been-lost gathering dimension on her skin.

Her body, poised electric, activated for flight. Or paralysis. A suspense of no duration, wrapped in the body’s movements—to sense her heart’s thudding, to sense through that thudding—paralysis, flight.

Fear approaches softly through the forest.

Becomes a surface, warm with life.  Beneath which she shivers.  Her body extends through the forest, and the others, extending to meet her, give her body back to her, small and trembling, a thin film of sweat covering the skin she shivers under.  Becomes a skin through which her body touches theirs.

Through fear they’re bigger and stronger than she is, names them Giants. Giants move shadows over the forest floor.

Over time, their faces, their arms and legs; their chests rise and fall with breath; their taut waists as they run.  Her own body:  they’re neither bigger nor stronger than she is—she is a woman, they are many woman, become women.

The Giant passes softly by.

Slips into the future, beneath pine needles at the base of a tree, slides between ground and sky, its dusky half-presence texturing the forest.  Caves and gullies, a tunnel of rotting logs clammy to the fingertips.  For having once become skin then touch, fear now gathers the future into the giant’s hands.  Which press against her present, press against her past.  And in touching, burn.

Without leaving a mark.

Questions and Answers

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

Both of these poems work with a short passage from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages.  I was interested in the way the passage imagined the origin of language both as metaphorical and as arising from fear.  The passage felt timely to me in part because fear, perhaps as always, plays such a dominant role in our lives today—often we project our fears onto others, we name them, turn them into objects, respond to them not as people but as the objects of our fear.  This is a devastating dynamic played out over and over again, and I wanted to trace its happening both in language and in the body and thought.

This poem “At first women felt with their organs (only much later did it occur to anyone to fear)” originally appeared in Asian Canadian Critique Beyond the Nation. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 227 (Winter 2015): 74.

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