The body in pain. The pain of the body and its torture. Distending, distorting, rending, and tearing. In the thirteenth century The Liflade ant te Passiun of Seinte Margarete, Olibrius the wicked demands that Saint Margaret’s living body be torn to pieces so thoroughly that he might count all her sinews, producing a bloody stream that disgusts onlookers, so horrible that even the governor himself can’t make himself look at it. This text isn’t for undergraduates, or at least not without context, as it has been placed here, thrown in between Beowulf and Bisclavret on the syllabus and uncommented on in lecture. An evil little piece of pornography, meant to stimulate faith in God by overwhelming the senses, The Passion of the Christ as produced by the director of Hostel, the opposite of Augustine’s friend Alypius being excited by the sound of the Roman games and opening his shut eyes to revel in the carnage taking place in the stadium below.
Olibrius orders his executioners to cast her in prison “on the pain of death,” as if there would be resistance on any grounds to halting her mutilation (it could only conceivably be compassion, or a desire to end her suffering). The pain of death is the pain of the body, the pain of want and need unsatisfied on earth. No body is ever fully satisfied, no body ever gets what it wants, even if what it wants is right there in front of it, food or love or anything else entering into its emptiness but never passing behind that final veil. Two earthly lovers entertwined still peer out at each other from windows in locked towers, taking in as much as can be taken in but left wanting more. A teeter-totter tipping back and forth. Hell is the body personified: fleshy, corrupted, demanding, stinking, and violent—everything awful about the body is exaggerated and magnified, like in the kingdom of Brobdignag, the suppurating cancer in the giant breast of a beggar that Gulliver cannot tear his eyes away from. What’s Olibrius after? He wants Saint Margaret to be his wife, and when she says no he enacts the pain that somewhere his body must feel: his empty, stinking, rotting body, the desire of flesh that will, one way or another, itself lose its sinews, a loss and a violence that through Margaret he enacts on himself, putrefying any hope of ever entering into its absence.
Signs of a stroke. Slurring speech, dizziness, eyes blurring. I keep repeating myself but I have not had a stroke. For a long time this summer I would stand up and feel dizzy and my vision would blur for a few moments, but this is not sign of a stroke although it can be an indication of susceptibility to one. In the car coming back from Pontypool I could not remember the name of something I thought I should remember. I can’t remember it now, but that might be because I spent so long concentrating driving through rains and mist. I couldn’t remember the name of a famous Canadian Literary scholar who had knowingly brought an abuser to the university and placed him in a position where he would be working with vulnerable people. I couldn’t remember the name of a friend we had both seen on Zoom. And now I am reading your book, a book about a man in decline, who is losing his memory. I haven’t had a stroke.
There are things we all regret. One thing I always regret bringing up, but I do, I think because there is a part of it I am still figuring out and I would like to understand it. Only because for so long I only saw one side, where I was the problem, the only problem (we both agreed on this), and I wanted to be gentle, and generous, and to give more of myself than I should have ever given, and that made things worse. And for the record no one was particularly bad on either side, even though I had every right to be angry and even to be suspicious. But the bad feelings have lingered because I’m just starting to figure that out now, the dynamic, from a position of distance and safety, and because a childhood into which I was forced to rationalize injustice means I feels it more acutely even when it no longer matters. It is a sort of deflection of injustice that is long past.
“The medieval home was the place of birth and death, and the scene of an unending struggle against squalor and confusion; women’s tasks of feeding, cleansing, and comforting demanded incessant labour and courage, demands from which men were shielded by the supposedly larger responsibilities of the public world. If God relinquished his transcendence to take on human flesh, it was not to step boldly on to the cross as a liberating warrior but to become a cloth hung up to dry, to undergo the ‘feminine’ squalor of blood and water, herring scales, and rain; and one effect of Julian’s writing is to confront the hidden but inescapable horrors of the body and the home.” —A.C. Spearing, introduction to Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love
What does it mean to be so far off to cycle between phases, to shift so dramatically over the course of a month? I am the moon, and the moon is somewhere else and in that place where the moon is, there is nothing: footsteps and craters, visible impacts that disappear when it is new. To get to the moon would take a long time—it takes so long to drive to. So long to get your car up into the air. So many little pit stops along the way. Some say that what is lost on earth finds its home out there. I have always believed this. But what is there isn’t lost. It is simply somewhere else.
On August 25, 2021, at two in the afternoon. An overcast day, but still swollen with heat. While his parents were eating lunch. On the corner of Bathurst and Dundas a truck took a turn through a red, and he was crushed running for the streetcar parked on the south side of the intersection. Two men in blue oxfords watched as his body splished in several directions. One of the men had been on the point of shouting a warning, the other, thinking that he would stop, had been ready to say “Close call,” in an ironic or detached tone of voice. André had recently become very good at filling in holes between baseboards and floorboards, kneeling and letting the latex seal in the gaps as he pressed it at a forty-five degree angle. There were more still to fill. He had a dream in which he stood outside his own window, begging himself to be let in. “Don’t you recognize me?” he would ask. As a child he would stand out by the compost heap and listen to the coyotes howling in the trees. He was never really a child. Dreams where he ran from something but never quite escaped, dreams where he approached monuments forever distant, etc. Never slept on his back except when held in the “koala position,” a terminology he was ultimately unsure if he had invented. It will take years to vacuum out the weight of him from his apartment, leaning and heaving with his dead life. Survived by his parents, two or three provinces away, his three siblings, scattered in various directions, a niece, and the stains made on the two blue oxfords, which will never come out.
Staying in a beaver’s studio—logs, half-chewed, piled up over the unused campsite. We didn’t leave until ten the next morning, and then were late that evening, scrambling in choppy water to find a place to stay, as the sun made its descent. But that first night was getting used to the sounds outside our thin nylon walls. Stefan said it sounded like something descended a tree right next to us after we had gone to bed, then paused, as if registering our presence for the first time. We saw the beaver do a sweep as we waited for our potatoes to cook, looking towards the campfire with disappointment, acknowledging that its worksite would be transformed. I woke up in the middle of the night to a loon calling in the night, from the little bay behind us which we would cross the next morning en route to the portage. For fifteen minutes it made one eerie call after another, sounding either like frantic grieving or harried madness. Only in the morning, after I asked and no one else had heard it, did I wonder if it was Tom Thomson’s ghost. We were on his lake and had passed his cairn the previous afternoon. In the choppy water early next evening we resolved finally to take shelter on the first open site—landed on the bald back face of an island, clinging to it as the wind rocked our boats. We brought them up the hill and then discovered that the campsite on the other end was empty and that there were trails running to either side. An ideal spot, except for two little plastic flutes that someone had left by the tents, one white, one blue. Superstitiously, we did not touch them. I had recently watched a movie where doing so brings bad luck. That night, after the bros across the way went to bed, I heard a wolf howling: first far away, then close to their campsite, directly across the water. And in the morning it was choppy again, but it didn’t matter—we were staying put. I had tore something in my shoulder the previous evening, so when we left the day after, when the water settled again, fire burned hot in my arm whenever I dipped in the oar.
Me and Steve crossed the water with our improvised line using beer tabs as hooks, leftover sausage as bait—that salty shit we couldn’t finish the first night, not even Doug who threw his into the fire before everyone else, something souring when I offered him the rest of mine. I’m not your garbage disposal, he said disappearing into the bush. Someone said the box was about to go off —it might have been me. Soon we heard its echo. There he goes, I said, as it trumpeted, grinding it up. As the water rocked us Steve told me about his engagement, how Karly had posted the video on Facebook, how it had got two hundred and fifty likes. On the island next to ours a woman kicked in the water. Throw her some sausage, I said— Steve only laughed. I tried to get the canoe closer to see if we couldn’t hook some part of her, but Steve steered us away. Doug was standing out by the shore when we got closer in one of his moods. Catch anything? he asked us, over the lake. Do you seriously still have room? I asked him, still pissed that he had polished off the chips that morning. How red his face got when he lifted the rock crying that if we came any closer he’d sink us— I just made a whirring noise like a trash compactor choking on bone. Steve laughed as Doug heaved the large grey stone towards us, slipping through the air—it’s hard to dodge when you’re out on the water hard to miss the shale as it slaps into your side
Something’s gone wrong. Waiting by the door to the basement where I do my laundry is a large orange cat without tags. I nodded to him on an earlier trip as I watched him cross the street. On my way out, my hands full of clean laundry, he lets himself in to the little hallway, then meows at the basement apartment. No one comes. I knock on the door. Nothing changes. I stand there, looking down on him from the top of the stairs, and wonder if I should put him out again. He gives up meowing and settles on the floor.
I’m coming back in fifty minutes anyway, so I let him stay. In a book I’m reading I can’t read past a needle. Not immediately. I put it down and find things to do in my apartment. Nothing, really. I’m about to leave, though I’m not going anywhere. Just in a circle. It feels like there is so much on the horizon, in every direction, and I feel as if I must choose just one thing though I have time, maybe, for nothing. Though in my experience the more time I have, the less productive I seem to be, and so maybe it goes without saying that I have gotten a lot done over the last few days.
You message me and say that as soon as you got on the bike path you received a text and burst into tears, the stress maybe of it being too hot last night, tossing and turning without any hope of sleep. The stress of other things. I didn’t sleep for three hours after getting into bed, during which time I at least had the opportunity to catch up on my reading. Sometime after two am I got up and put ice packs underneath the fan and, briefly, it got cold enough to consider even getting underneath the blanket.
I kept asking what seemed real. What seems real? During the day sounds from the back of the house make me suspect that a raccoon has entered, as they used to like to do. But there is nothing inside or outside, no evidence of any tampered-with screen door. On Twitter the other day a woman claimed that she saw a stranger walk through the alley to her backyard, but that when she investigated there was only a mother deer and her fawn, no one else to be seen. It’s too much to believe, and yet I believe it, somehow. I’ll believe anything. When I go back to the laundry room the dryer is silent and the cat who was waiting in the hallway is gone. Entered or exited, I don’t know. I guess I’ll keep letting him down the stairs.
The sprinklers pop out and startle me around four pm, so I move to the centre of the field to dry off. I am done reading Lacan. It’s already the end of the day. No one wants to work, and it’s so hot. “Oh, it’s just been crazy today,” says one employee to another in the empty retail store. In the field I feel as if I have been seduced by the sun, as if it whispered in my ears to take off my clothes. It’s just my shirt. Reading the psychoanalyst made me want to cry, just as it did a few days ago, as I reported to my therapist. “Whose dissertation were you reading?” she asked me. Our wires were crossed. “It was Lacan. Lacan,” I said. I told her about the dream that I recently had, how R. and D. said I was both “seductive” and “manipulative,” in a “dangerous” way. “I don’t see what’s so funny about that,” she said. “It’s just so absurd,” I said. “That they have to work so hard, when I’m the one who was betrayed.” I could work harder. Victoria College has been transformed into a film set. Or maybe it’s the condos across the street. The street is packed with trailers, and on a table outside one of the catering trucks there is salad after salad stacked and sweating in plastic clamshells. A man with his mask around his chin, presumably in the union, is asleep on the grass. The previous night I met with Dmitry, on the Bar Neon patio. We tried Three Speed first, but it was packed. He tells me about a birthday that goes haywire. No one is used to being waited on, and it’s easy to get drunk. “He crashed his bicycle and cut up his face,” he said. As we’re crossing the street, afterwards, we notice a rat that has been flattened into a disc, a perfectly featureless circle with a fat tail. “What a rat!” we exclaim. “What a rat!”