Separate bodies

The ambiguity of literature may create questions that lead to answers.

Earlier today I posted an excerpt from “Villanelle for D.G.B.” by Marilyn Hacker. I’m far too lazy to look up the source of this poem’s anguish. I’m too old to recall the discussion surrounding this piece I likely played a passive role in during my college years. I honestly don’t even remember when I first read the words or where I was. I just know they’ve been in my damn head for years.

First, I enjoy villanelles. They don’t have to rhyme to have rhythm. I prefer things like that. 

Second, this specific villanelle was written for a specific person, probably about a relationship that’s falling apart. This is documented. 

But it’s so much cooler when it’s interpreted as a metaphor for society.

“Villanelle for D.G.B.” has always haunted me. Recent events in our nation has made it worse. My fiancé, who is a particularly literal person, took my posting of the piece as an underground way of saying our relationship is deteriorating. I can see why she thought that.

But to me, this morning, “Villanelle for D.G.B.” narrated the death of Robin Williams and the black kid who was shot by a cop in Missouri. The events aren’t directly related, but they can be related in that they speak to a society full of bodies becoming more separate every day. Bodies drowning in routine. Bodies not understanding what they celebrate.

Williams made me wonder how many folks around us are going through internal battles masked by smiles, jokes and coerced charm. Every day we separate ourselves from them, limiting our relationships to Facebook friendships that smolder and eventually fade into nothing. We avoid them in “real” life and think it’s good enough to have them on a friend list. But they post so much negative, depressing stuff that even that becomes too much and we unfriend their gloomy asses. Then it’s awkward when we meet in person. We touch each other, speechless and amazed. We communicate, but with limbs and lips that have been fused.

As for the young man shot by a cop in Missouri, my issue is not so much with the event itself but the small community’s response. These residents seem to want to separate. They want a fight. They want persons, not a people. Every day, our bodies separate us from our planned, deliberate, ironic lives. Think about it: this is a people who’ve become separate from their lives. Separate from LIFE.

It’s the first stanza that rings in my head, dominates my memory: Every day our bodies separate, exploded, torn and dazed. Like a bomb just went off that we survived, but each of our limbs has life of its own. Apply that to a group of persons – a people – and it seems as though the degree of separation has intensified to a maximum point that shouldn’t exist. “Separate” is no longer an absolute; it actually gets worse than simply being alone.

So here’s my obligatory “we need to cherish every person in our life” paragraph. Sadly, though, the message has become wordless praise fit only for wordless darkness. We won’t consider each other a people. We’ll never be more than a neat collection of persons. We’ll only learn what we want from the death of Robin Williams and the shooting of an unarmed man in Missouri. Then we’ll take what we’ve allowed ourselves to learn, post it on Facebook and proceed …

… not understanding what we celebrate.

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