Habit makes time relative for us. At twenty, the faces surrounding us have no history except in the present of the gaze we turn toward them. So, young adults, old people, and children seem forever framed in a “just as I see you” that makes them impervious to change. Later, one discovers that faces and bodies are material for transformation. One guesses then that time’s function is to pass very much alive like a current of heat and thought through the bodies gifted with this canny intelligence from which we learn to endow ourselves over the course of the years so as to repress elegantly the idea of death like the very last dregs.
—Nicole Brossard, Intimate Journal, Trans. Barbara Godard
I lie on my side, covered in a sheet on a hospital bed; through a window in the sheet, a doctor stabs my thigh with a needle the circumference of a fork-prong. Lorraine's near, cheering me and telling me to breathe. A nurse holds my hand in hers, though the feeling of skin on skin is impeded by her latex glove. In my dreams of the event beforehand, she's always holding my hand in her bare one.
Physical pain, unaccompanied by a malicious or sadistic perpetrator, is usually bearable. Somehow the doctor’s intentions to heal are obvious and allow me to relax into his manipulations of my body. He apologetically leans into the needle when my bone is unusually difficult to pierce. After thirty minutes of pressure, the needle searching for vulnerability, I feel it slide into my bone, an inner chamber that shouldn’t be intruded upon. While the pain doesn’t intensify enough to make me panic, I am surprised by my body’s deep reluctance, from hip to knee, to relinquish its fluids. The pain has a flavour of emotional stubbornness, unwillingness to have marrow suctioned away. I tell the doctor, my bones were happy the way they were before.
When the needle exits, it leaves a hole the size of one square in a screen door. I think, if my body wants to betray me, all my blood will leave me via this escape route. I see a vial of my marrow, a deep purplish red. I can’t help thinking up a clumsy poeticism: the bone marrow reminds me of the dead jellyfishes I saw last summer, washed up on the beaches of Prince Edward Island. I wanted to write about them at the time, but couldn’t think of any way to describe how, for me, their purple, bloated bodies suggested a primordial mystery, a nebulous translucence.
How are these formless things alive?
The jellyfish is water of a different colour. It’s a being without a spine, without the hard things that fool us into believing that our rigid props won’t fail us. The earth and our bones are liquid at the centre—my god, will nothing prove stable? So many disappointments rest in softening: limp phalluses, dissolving brain matter, skin that loses resiliency. Our wrinkles will pool at our ankles and we’ll gum our food before the end. But what of a jellyfish, swabbing the ocean with its tendrils all its life? Conscious or not, it must accept inconstancy simply by continuing to swim. Have we been given the wrong tools? Perhaps the jellyfish understands, in ways that we cannot, that everything must tend toward liquid. Whatever energy flows, it’s only obstructed by things like skulls and maybe what rests on fluidity isn’t as precarious as we think.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Brecken Hancock's poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have appeared in Event, CV2, Grain, The Fiddlehead and Studies in Canadian Literature. She is Reviews Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and Interviews Editor for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. Her first book of poems, Broom Broom, was published by Coach House Books in 2014. She lives in Ottawa. Visit www.breckenhancock.com for more information.