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Writing the Body

A photo of Miriam Tag.

(…) my much inscribed
skin knows a space behind the word

where you become real.

Miriam Tag, “and mystery exists“, from “abstract alphabet“, translated by Jo Langdon

There is a mystery in how language appears. This here, right now. A poem, prose, a piece of writing.

Sometimes words are just there, all around; they keep creeping, tiptoeing, flattering, flying, crawling, climbing onto the page. They are inside and outside, deep down in the tissues of my flesh, all around my body. Little inklings, little insects; fireflies and flutterings, mots and muscle contractions. 

Other times, they have settled somewhere else. Must have been called to assemble in a distant body, not yet known to me. Sometimes it is hard to endure that. As if they have abandoned me. As if they have left me, not only incomplete but caged. Tiny flutterings within me want to move, be moved, transform their form; but there is no word coming close enough to let them enter.

Yesterday, I read the first detailed description of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. A body falling into silence, turning into another body, inwardly. What happens here is that the caterpillar, after having consumed massively, turns into a chrysalis, an enclosing shell. Now, deep within, imaginal cells appear, cells of a new imago, image, imagination, of something so different from the caterpillar that they must seem speculative fiction for the former cells. They carry with them the information of a form yet to come, and they look and vibrate so differently that they are attacked by the old cells. But they are unstoppable, they appear, appear, appear, they recognize each other, they bind, bond, clump until new structures have been built, and the old caterpillar’s body turns into a meal that feeds the emergent butterfly. 

Sometimes I am the caterpillar. Sometimes a chrysalis. Sometimes a butterfly.

When I was a kid, I was forced to learn reading and writing. My stepfather would close the door of our living room and set a clock. ‘When the clock rings, I will return. You will know how to read these letters. You will read this page to me.’

The pressure exerted on me forced the letters into my body. One consequence was that I could not stop reading, nowhere, even when just walking the streets of our city. I had to consume every sign. Even if I didn’t want to read all the advertisements, shop windows, traffic and street signs, their words pressed into my body. 

As a child, and way into adulthood, language was urgent for me. I couldn’t escape it. 

Relief for my body only occurred after I had spent time in Asia in my twenties and thirties, surrounded by complex signs I wasn’t able to read, and immersed in vast landscapes without human signs. The Himalayas, the Tibetan plateau, the forests of the Terai. Here, the space between the words was able to breathe again; and deep within my body, more-than-written-verbal languages would begin to appear. 

Since, I explore these other languages, slowly, with attentive care. 

Since, I begin learning to feel at ease when words leave me. Sometimes I am not abandoned and caged, but placed in a space that opens itself, myself, turning us into another.

Since, I follow the lead of these other traces. Perhaps they will bring me back into written language; perhaps they will lead me somewhere else. This constitutive openness is decisive. If I want, desperately want them to bring words to me, the passage will be blocked. I try to melt in the tension; I try to sink into my body. Traces of vibration, not yet form. Rhythms, not yet rhymes. A music that can be barely heard but felt within the body. 

Deep within my inscribed skin, words turn into imaginal cells. They are no longer obtrusive forces, pressing into my flesh, roping my attention, but creative powers bringing forth new forms, nourishing what is already here, and yet to come.

One day the old obtrusion will have been eaten away by these new forms.

Miriam Tag is a poet, somatic mystic and postdoctoral scholar in Philosophy. In her work, she explores relations between bodies on different scales, such as planets, photons, pens, leaves, waves, sunbeams, ink, fingertips, crystals, crusts, spirals and squirrels, lightning and ground – relations brimming with attraction, attention, reciprocity, contemplation and respect. She has published in journals and anthologies, is recipient of several awards, grants and stipends, and was Writers Victoria’s City of Literature Virtual Writer in Residence for the month of November.

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