Shea, Inc.

  Jerome Shea       September 20, 2009      Weekend Wonk

Yes, “Shea, Inc.” as in “incorporated,” even as you are incorporated, which is to say that our souls or spirits or anima are the guests of our bodies, our corpora, those hard-working if sometime treacherous flesh and blood and bone contrivances that bear us through life until they final give up, as we say, the ghost. For good or ill we are all incarnate. We spend our lives peeking out of the eyeholes of this body that shelters us and pulls in signals from the world. It is a prison, albeit a prison from which we are loath to escape.

I am proposing here a toast: let us hoist a frothy flagon to our bodies.

The poet May Swenson wrote a wonderful poem about this animal that bears us. It’s called “Question,” and this is how it starts:

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

In reality there is no recourse from that final falling, so let us be aware of our bodies in sickness and in health, in pain and in pleasure. Pain—as when I pulled a muscle in my back a couple of weeks ago—commands our attention right off. It might be the dull misery of the flu or a throbbing tooth, or it might be something sharp and excruciating like that pulled muscle, but it reminds us of our bodies—and sometimes of our mortality—in no uncertain terms. Then there are those, sadly, whose bodies really are prisons of pain, those racked with chronic pain and suffering deprivation every minute of their lives. Some are stoic about it to an extent that truly humbles me; some even see the good in it, the gift for spiritual growth, and I can only stand agape. Were it me, I am afraid that my first thought would be to break out of that prison.

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

For the rest of us, the lucky ones, our bodies are sources more of pleasure than of pain. For some they were sources of delight and wonder. Remember your adolescence? Yes, there was much embarrassment and confusion, but remember growing into that body that your hormones had been saving for you? “Wow! I am some punkins!” you said to yourself, preening in the mirror. (Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that fatuity, even if I knew that 5 foot 6 was as good as it was going to get.)

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
how will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

What a feast our bodies, our senses, lay on for us every waking minute. Last evening I had one of my favorite meals: a big bowl of chile rojo washed down with a couple of bottles of good Mexican beer. Ambrosia and nectar! And think what we can hear, be it a symphony or a beloved folk song. Yes, it is our souls that are moved, but only because our ears delivered those words, those soaring notes. And think what our noses do for us. Right now everybody around the town is grinning more than usual, and I know why: the aroma of roasting chiles is in the air! Proust had his madeleines but when I was a lad I had some memento from the girl I was besotted with all through high school, and it had her perfume on it! One clandestine whiff and I was thrown into torments or ecstasies,* depending upon whether she loved me or not that particular week (oh, and you were never that sappy? Yeah, right). Sights, sounds, smells, tastes. Isn’t this why we are all moved to tears when Emily Webb says, “Goodbye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers, and food and coffee, and new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up”?

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

Now drink that flagon down.

*Speaking of ecstasy, surely its pinnacle is what John Cheever so aptly called “the bounding act of love,” two bodies doing the most intimate thing that bodies were meant to do.

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