For want of touch. This is a poem about love, about it’s physical attributes. How bodies are not bodies. How they are countries, two lands conjoined.
I imagine that this is meant to describe two lovers who have been reunited, because the simile chosen is that their bodies are like a terra cotta (very earthy) pot that was once broken, now put back together there are no seams. The terra cotta simile is expanded upon by time travelling back to an earth where all the lands were together before they broke apart and became foreign to one another.
I like the lands are people simile, it reminds me Catherine Valente’s Palimpsest where she talks of people as being lands. Each land has it’s own type of coffee (in other words every person makes coffee in his or her own unique way, and has his or her own unique taste for coffee). And when two people meet they must learn each other’s language, for every single person has his or her own special way of speaking – they’re called idioms (words unique to an individual). When two people make love, they must learn the road map of the other person’s body; they are visitors to a new and strange land.
The body we inhabit is our land, and the bible tells (and, in a way, so does science) that we are made of mud. So, how can this strange place, this body we inhabit, not also be the land we inhabit? Perhaps we are like me, born in one place then transported elsewhere, but do we not acclimatize – eat of the local food, pick up the local microbes, drink the local water, breathe the local air.
When we get to know someone and he or she becomes familiar to us, don’t we acclimatize to that person? Their customs become our customs and vice versa. How we need the clay of one another as Ray Bradbury once put it.
I like that in this poem the line between body and land is blurred, so that “Brazil’s round shoulder hoisted..” and “Alaska so linked with Russia in the Bering Straights that fingers touched.” The countries press and interlock and hoist. Two countries were joined like dead hands just as the poet and her lover join hands in sleep. “legs, arms entwined, on continent, one mass.”
At the beginning of the poem, the bodies are described as luminary which is also the description for a star – not a planet, but if current theories are correct, a star is the origin of all planets; their bodies break away from the fiery mass and cool to their separate elements all brown and earthy. It is also interesting to note, but probably not relevant, that a shortening of the word “luminary” to “lumina” is also terminology for the inner linings of the body’s cavities.
And though there are bodies discussed, there is certainly more going on than just earth churning.
by Grace Schulman
Our bodies, luminary under bedclothes,
fit tightly like the pieces of a broken
terra cotta vase that is newly mended,
smooth surfaces, no jagged edges visible.
I’ve read that countries were so interlocked
before the oceans fractured them and splayed
Mexico enfolding Mauritania;
Brazil’s round shoulder hoisted to Nigeria;
Italy pressing Libya; Alaska
so linked with Russia in the Bering Straits
that fingers touched, like dead hands on a harp.
Our tremulous hands held fast in sleep at dawn;
legs, arms entwined, on continenet, one mass.