“The Body’s Poetics of Space”

Elle Mac
Maen Illustrates

When I was younger, I was terribly scared of diggers. The big yellow cat ones that unearth the ground, making it a material to move and manipulate. They held such a monstrous feeling for me, they were so inhumane. My mother would have to tell me they were sleeping to stop me from completely breaking down, and get me to walk by the still ones while they were off. 


I can’t say much has changed. 


Today I walk by a massive hole in the ground on the way to the grocery store. 

The hope hanging from a prayer tree to the left of the hole, with little hand written messages tied with ribbon to its branches, feels like it could cancel out the noises of the ground being broken open if it wanted to, but not quite, and the juxtaposition was just too sinister. I gape into the pit — always expecting to see something so obviously horrible — but end up wincing at the normality and order of it all, eventually walking alongside everyone else, who too, don’t quite know what to do with what they’re seeing.


The city digs deeper and builds itself higher, as if it’s so insecure that it is always trying to prove that it belongs. That it’s impermeable. That it’s forever. That it’s all we are. 


That’s why I get this feeling in my stomach as I walk around our colonial modernity when I start trying to be productive. ‘Self actualizing’ and city ‘development’ seem pretty much synonymous to me, they both feel like walls in my body. The sensation is the result of that which is trying to constantly modernize itself, erase the scars, the stories, and live for a time which will never come — a period of developed enough-ness. 


And it is dreadfully lonely.


A place where one can finally overcome the body, nature, death, and accept change, but only when sanctioned. I feel the way I/it question(s) it/my-self, within this attempt at being something I’m/it’s not, the effort to drown out, cover up, and ultimately, pacify the more innately powerful, sovereign, and alive, voice of the world. 


This is an ever present exhaustion I have yet to work through.


Divided into sections of work, eat, play, rest, be entertained, pray, consume, and learn, I wonder if there is ever any space for life, if there’s space for us. Because where do we idle, where do we walk, where are we alive? 


What, really, do you have when you separate organs from each other, but just a bunch of parts? The flow of division is quick and unquestionable, chaotic like everything’s made to be immortal and beyond time. There is an intimate violence behind all this, one that has taken our gratitude, our ability to be. 


And there is great grief going unfelt.


I keep my pace of efficiency as I make my way to wherever the hell I think seems the most familiar in a deeply unrooted ontology. I try to tune myself inwards, away from the race to be anywhere but here and now. 

This is when it sets in, every time, because the hollow inquiry arises from the depths of my bones asking; 

How are we to know what we are made of if we are too busy being swallowed whole by what we have made? 

And maybe even more pressing;

How are we to recognize we are connected at the site of the dirt, if we’ve forgotten it’s there?


This kind of profoundness could kill me if I let it,

It seems like too much to sit with. It always does. 


I walk by one of those shiny new buildings with crisp signage and promises for future success —the kind that makes you feel terrible about yourself — I see my reflection in the glass and it’s written all over my face how badly I want to sit down for a damn minute and ask who we are in this place? And, how do we belong? 

But these kinds of questions don’t get asked on stolen land, these kinds of questions dont get asked without deep reckoning.


I stop walking and the mountains come into my view, the relief is beyond comparison. You always see the beautiful things when you’re still.


The weakness will pass because the seasons will change,

you will bring yourself back and find somewhere to walk to,

if there is still breath, there will be another day. 


It is these mountains I cry to

It is this sky I sob under

It is this holy ground that I weep on

After all, property does not stand above the earth.



So maybe I will still wince when I see a mechanical monster. We cry over the same things as adults as we did children, you know. Maybe I’ll be good even if I don’t know what I’m upset about. Maybe that’s very human of me.  

What might it take to bring life back, slowly, and gently, through the despair and the walls that whisper that we aren’t enough, to remember we are like the roots, always seeking light. 

See, we are too, bursting through the cracks. All the buildings that are rotting or half torn down, reminding us that they are only that. The narratives that make us forget our own stories of the place that resides in the we, are unfolding at their seams.  


An empire is ultimately bound to collapse, and maybe falling is too, in its nature. 


In the end, I am always the one to break down, because aren’t we forever able to be? I am the one to admit I like the look of the city lights and the stars together, to embrace the good and the bad of humanity within myself and digest it all as nature. I am the one to sit in the discomfort of my ugly, my broken, my destructiveness, and be re-composted no matter how polluting I feel, because I am the terrain. 


Could we, see the continual breath in the ongoing loss, and stop our mistaken fighting against what life is? 

Do we have the ability to dance despite the pain? 

Laugh despite the tears?

And is that not what life asks? 

If we can love as we die