1052: Body's Ken

1052: Body's Ken

1052: Body's Ken


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

One of my great pleasures as a kid was coming home from school and entering the vestibule, where I dropped my backpack, hung my coat on a rack, then went inside to lay on the sofa beneath my family’s grandfather clock and take a nap before homework. I watched the clock’s pendulum tick away the school day’s bustle. Growing up, that daily ritual of listening and being lulled into sleep made me keenly aware of thresholds. The foyer served as a portal into the quiet of the house, and the clock drifted me into the intricacies of time, or rather, timelessness.

I continue to take pleasure and find intrigue when I conceptually and physically encounter liminal spaces: the brain of John Malkovich in the movie Being John Malkovich; Dante and Virgil entering the circles of the underworld; the wardrobe in Narnia or the Phantom Tollbooth; the edge of a pool, where I stood thinking about the Middle Passage, a liminal space if ever there was one.

I even hear thresholds, as when a jazz quartet plays a suspended moment of held notes before the soloist improvises away from the opening melody and into a freedom of sound.

This is where realms of existence are palpably felt, where physical and spiritual worlds meet. Recently, upon landing in Ireland, I took a spontaneous drive to Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old tomb of mysterious power. The Celts refer to such thresholds as “thin places.” The Bakongo people call it the Kalûnga line, a watery boundary between the spiritual and the living.

Thresholds are fundamentally lyrical. Important transitions in my life prove as much. Whenever I am faced with life-altering decisions, I hold the past alongside the uncertainty of the future. That tension powers both ambiguities and revelations. Poets thrive in that energy between knowing and not knowing. They attempt to convey a sense of awakening by marking language and their experiences and thoughts as memorable, as sacred, while honoring the conditions that urged them into song.

Today’s poem spotlights the rich space where language fuses and ushers in the prospect of a new relationship between objects and lived experiences.

Body’s Ken
by Simon West

As songs without words
run loose in the mind
and thoughtless as light over matter

so unruled lines will slip their moorings
and carry the eye on a current 
that laps the shape
and crease of things.

Sometimes language lags
in the wake of body’s ken.

Look how a sketch set down by hand
will draw you out like a walk
and into the park of flesh.

So still-life bottles talk to a bowl
and get the gaps between known things
as air takes shape in shadow and light.

So singing is good
when the sense of sound
comes divined in the throat

or the ear’s chamber lets you float
half-buoyed in a fathom of waves.

To follow the threads of sight and sound
you’re swept like a plumb 
from the boat’s hard rim.

So laughter will burst and sighs seep.
And breath is always there
as a breeze flouts frontiers.

“Body’s Ken” from PRICKLY MOSES: POEMS BY SIMON WEST © 2023 Simon West. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.