Inspired by a sculpture of a bare-breasted female of the Renaissance period (17th-18th century), at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.
Holding on to shards,
Since the moment of inception.
The body, trying to learn and unlearn
Swimming in the tidal pool
Of the amniotic fluid
Not knowing yet, the shape
It will assume, the sex and the trajectory
It will take, sucked out of the mother’s womb,
Lolling happily in the mother’s arms.
The sudden pain, the ebb and flow
Of a life force that the placenta supports,
The uterus nurtures, grows.
The uterus of a woman, a goddess, no less
The life-blood flows through her veins.
The embryo floats, fluid, evolving in new shapes
Oblivious of the names, the definitions
Trailing after, the embryo enlarges, becomes a human,
Pushes downstream, in search of the shore,
Rippling, flowing, crying,
“Hello world, I am here, for you.”
The trail of the world starts, gathering dust
Sinking in the mud and soot, the body,
A celebration of bones and sinew and blood,
Muscles and epidermis and the outer crust
Of the skin, fair? Very fair? How much melanin
Is good enough to be cherished,
How much darkness can call censure,
How much opaqueness of the skin is good enough
How big are the eyes, dilated, or sunken?
How long are the eyelashes, the pupils,
Dark brown or azure blue or plain black?
Can you stare straight? Are you cross-eyed,
Do you squint? How do your cheek bones look,
Your nose, sharp, flat, or barely existent?
Your lips, thin, or slanted, or pouted enough,
The milk teeth, giving way to adult grin,
Even, or crooked? Your neck, slender enough
To give the swans a shame? Or short, unobtrusive?
How do your legs move when you walk around,
Can you walk straight? Is one of your legs slanted?
The neighborly gaze, following the anatomy
Of your waist, your hips, and thighs, and legs.
Your hair begins to grow, spill over your shoulders
Your armpits have hair growth too, most ghastly
Of all sights, you learn to shave them, peel off
Your hairy arms and legs, as you soak the blood
Dripping between your thighs, the froth
Of your womanhood clamped shut in sanitary pads
A survival skill, a recycled habit.
And just when you run, chasing the sun
Or the roaring Norwester winds in the terrace,
You are suddenly papery-thin, lanky, taller than needed,
“When the wind blows, don’t run; it may blow you.”
They laugh, when they say.
“It is the time of the girl.”
The pinpricks of the mammary glands,
The breasts, flat, underdeveloped, or round enough?
Bouncing, or firmer, and controlled?
Some days you come out like an evening raaga,
Light brown, full, buoyant.
Some days your youth, bleeding milk,
Your mermaid smells have been too good to be true.
Some days, you crib over how chubby or thin
Or tall or miniscule, or fairer you crave to be
With diet, or drinks, or drugs, or bleaches,
Fitting into the perfect mold, the perfect costume
The perfect glass slippers that fairytales have taught you.
Think Cinderella or Snow-White, rolling, swaying,
Twisting, bruising, smothering in beauty-talks.
In bed, around you, the crazy night flutters.
How inviting are your arms, how provocative your curves?
How pliable, soft, your bridal lips, as your hymen severs…
Come, the ripe, fruitful season beckons you.
How useful have the ovaries been? Was the ovum fertilized?
The body must pass the litmus test of bearing a child…
How is the uterus expanding a life inside?
How broad are the pelvic bones, how flexible the muscles?
How capable the childbearing hormones?
How much does the abdomen sag, the stretch marks bother
While carrying a child fortifies you, defines you?
How useful have the breasts been?
Did you nurse the babe well,
Or did the milk ducts go dry?
How well do you know this body now,
Glued like a poster in the eyes
That wake up, sweat-damp, with a longing for that diva
Who bubbles and shimmers, gushes, reaches her crescendo
And then, droops, sags in her twilight years.
When the body is a female, you can ogle her,
Your voyeur eyes, skimming her every move,
relishing her curves even as you call her a slut
when she aborts her unwanted embryo,
Her womb, accursed, when she miscarries,
Yet purses her lips, and brushes past you,
Her solitude, hitting your loaded mouth like darts.
Let her keep her body, her darkness
And the flashes of her soul that lurks beneath that body,
To herself, for once. You never knew,
The bones and the marrows, the muscles and the epidermis
The glands and the hormones, the cervix and the ovaries
Need to play their music alone, unattended,
Blow their spirals of smoke without an intruder, for once.
If given a chance, the body could travel in time
For only a day, and find the amniotic fluid
And drown in it, a nameless, wanton fetus.
All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee.
Lopa is a poet and writer based in the States.