Louise Glück, “Snowdrops”

The body, the body, the body. We are told it is ours because it is our property. But it can be said to claim us—its uniqueness entails our scars, our pain, our anxiety. It is ours because we are it.

So it almost seems our bodies cannot be communicated. That’s not quite right, as intimacy very much exists. Perhaps our bodies cannot be shared on a universal level? Glück invites us to a force that shaped years of her own life. Through “what I was,” “how I lived,” “despair,” the body makes itself known through history:

Snowdrops (h/t @ArianeBeeston)
Louise Glück

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn't expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring—

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

History, though, is an imperative. A question of urgency regarding another, a climate which must be acknowledged if we are of the same species. Do you know what I was, how I lived?—ask about me, if you understand anything. You know what despair is—all know despair. What constitutes understanding and unity is acknowledgment. Winter should have meaning for you.

Glück speaks an all-too-physical mixture of life and death, birth and rebirth, terror and sanity. Hopelessness does not do justice to the feeling of body overwhelming body, crushing soul—I did not expect to survive, earth suppressing me. To arise from being buried alive arouses powerful, delicate sentiments. Wonder at one’s own wonder is too weak a formulation. It’s more like shock one’s own body would even respond after everything experienced. I didn’t expect to waken again, to feel in damp earth my body able to respond again, remembering after so long how to open again. “Waken,” “respond,” “open”—on a much smaller scale than her trauma, I remember when I felt eczema would consume me a year ago. My face looked like it was beaten in, there were large itchy red patches all over my body, I felt I couldn’t control anything. I woke up miserable and in pain, stayed that way throughout the day with scratching fits not unlike panic attacks, and then would have trouble sleeping.

The gain of any measure of control, an ability to respond, not react, felt an unclean, uncomfortable mixture. Like damp earth falling away. Or an openness which wasn’t easy or familiar—how to open again in the cold light of earliest spring is just as much a question as an occurrence.

For me, things are much better now. I have my face back. The skin has calmed in large part. Treatments and medicines actually take effect. I give my health thought, and most importantly, thoughts don’t spiral into a complete loss of control. Still, things are not perfect. I want to have learned something, be better for experience, despite the hard truth that some experiences should not happen, that not all pain can be learned from. I don’t want to forget after years of misery. Yet that is possible, for so much is unknown: afraid, yes, but among you again / crying yes risk joy / in the raw wind of the new world.

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