Seashell eyes, your mother’s hips. Piano hands, legs to gauge your life by. I believe in finding the poetry in your anatomy. You might have to look really hard, think really deep. You might have to open your eyes underwater to figure it out. You might have to ask someone else, someone who loves you more than you love yourself.
It was snowing outside, the kind of cold that made your bones brittle, but under the blanket it was warm. I never understood why he picked the basement room. I was sixteen and I was lying next to him, wrapped in a bed sheet. I remember how rosy my cheeks were and how much my hands were sweating. I was curled up in the corner, my knees hugged to my chest, and thinking about how embarrassed I was to find myself like that in front of him; all bare-skinned and vulnerable. He turned me towards him and asked me why I was so shy all of a sudden, his calloused fingertips tracing a flower garden on my cold back. And so I told him. I told him “I feel unattractive.” He stopped tracing for a second. I got goose bumps. He looked me right in the eye, his blue and grey to my brown and gold and green and asked me “Have you ever seen Ingres’s Le Grande Odalisque?” I nodded. “Well, you look like her.” I remember blushing and smiling. And then I understood.
I saw my mother’s hips as a blessing. I saw my obnoxiously tiny mouth as sweet. I saw my strong arms, robust from weeks of hoisting main sails and pulling crab cages out of the Pacific, as fully capable of rocking a baby to sleep. The chickenpox scar in the center of my forehead was suddenly my own personal bindi, my third eye. My legs were no longer brawny. They were strong. Strong enough to let me swim. One year you’re a tadpole, then a guppy, then you’re a dolphin, then you’re a shark. You don’t evolve, you just transform aquatically. My legs taught me how to transform aquatically. My aristocratic nose was a gift from my grandmother; it was her nose, it was my great-grandmother’s nose and her mother’s and her mother’s. I saw my body full of history; I saw it filled to the brim with poetry.
I don’t think you can be truly happy until you can wholeheartedly accept yourself, until you can tag metaphors to your fingerprints, your ankles, that soft spot behind your ears. Don’t let yourself be labeled by those who used your body as a garden to grow, even if they meant nothing bad by it. Don’t let yourself be labeled by your bad days. Let yourself be your ancestors, the image of those who love you. Let yourself be Le Grande Odalisque.
Years later, I’m sitting on the kitchen floor, watching the steam rise from my cup of coffee and I feel his fingers, new man, same musician’s calluses, comb through my wavy hair and I look up at him with my brown and gold and green eyes and I wonder what kind of effect they have on him. My seashell eyes to his honey drop irises. My poetry to his anatomy.
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