Sunday, July 19, 2009


I paused on the stair landing this morning, and looking out the south-facing window, saw Venus blazing alone in the soft sky.

Tithonus, I thought, though I couldn't quite bring the Tennyson poem to mind: I felt old beyond mortal years. Tithonus lying still while the heavens wheeled over him again and again. When his lover, the Goddess of Dawn, asked eternal life for him, she forgot to stipulate eternal youth. Oops.

And yet, I thought -- as Tithonus must often have thought -- and yet I have lain with the Goddess. I have had all I ever wanted.

And I thought of those wretched people whose bodies ossify, soft tissue turning to bone, and of other misfortunes: Ovidian transformations in our daily lives, the cancers and tumors, our bodies growing into other things than we expected. I've always been a partisan for feminist issues (out of self-interest, as much as any sense of fairness), but slogans about owning one's own body seem ridiculous to me. We don't own them, we can't control them, we can't even insist they stay human, if they decide otherwise. Let's leave the language of ownership where it belongs, in the realm of money and other such fictions. Bone and blood are too real for that.

Still. Joy runs over me, lambent and irresistible. My skin is on fire with it. Breakers of delight crest and crash on every shore of my body. I'm so light that little shifts of wind cartwheel me down the streets and blow me up into the sky. I settle momentarily in the crowns of apple trees, on the creosoted tops of telephone poles, and caw with all my heart, full of primal lust and delight in mischief. My feathers are glossy and iridescent in the sun. I am irrepressible.

Here's my myth: the gods took pity on Tithonus, though he deserved none, having received already favors no mortal should aspire to, and they turned him into a crow. He ruckuses and quarrels like any other crow now, and tumbles on the breeze. But every once in a while you can see a stillness come over him, when he remembers. Not for long: what crow is still for long? But he does remember.

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