We’ve written about John Lee Clark before here, and here. Clark is, to use his language, an actor in Protactile, . So I recognized his name when he showed up as the author of the featured poem on one of my favorite podcasts, Poetry Unbound.
Here’s the poem, Self Portrait (as posted on PoetryFoundation.org):
On the morning of my forty-second birthday
The kneading of my broad swimmer’s back by my beloved is the first gift. I nuzzle my pillow and inhale. I sniff my glorious hands. They take their turn at the giving. She says I am a furnace. In the shower I dig into my bestubbled cheeks. I scrape each fingernail against the right bottom corner of my upper left lateral incisor. My marvelous mouth pats the harvested skin into a soft dab. It rests tasteless on my tongue until I step out. My comb tickles my lips with a bouquet of pandemic hair. I sample the bitter end of a Q-tip and am satisfied. The fennel toothpaste searches me and tries me and finds me lacking in a few places. For Jael still sleeping I am a squeeze at their ankle. For Armand I am a known engulfment from behind. For Azel I am a quip and a laugh on his chest. For loafed and purring Angel I am a massive swoon. For hungry Nib I am two legs to rub against back and forth and to loop around with the most eloquently insistent tail in the animal kingdom.
I wanted to share this with Body Impolitic because it is so very deeply embodied. Clark doesn’t put his deaf-blind life front and center (why would you center the things you don’t have?). Instead, he puts his life, his engaged, loving, relationship-filled morning, out for us to see in a way that shares his day with those of us who can hear and see. The sharing is so generous, because we can read it without noticing what (for us) might seem like a loss. Full sensory life, without visual or auditory accompaniment.
I recommend that everyone read more of Clark’s poetry and (if you can see), watch some of the Protactile videos: a glimpse into another way of being in the world.
Thanks to Padraig O’Tuama of Poetry Unbound for bringing this one to me. In his insightful reading of this poem, Padraig also decenters deaf-blindness in favor of the richness that is in the poem.
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Two for this year’s World Poetry Day. First, a body celebration by Lucille Clifton:
“Homage to My Hips”
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top
and second, in empathy with the people of Brussels, living and dead, the famous “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.