it begins with a body and ends with war

By
Cecily Ou

“You might not have used that word for it; you might not have the words for it; you might not be able to put your finger on it. Feminism can begin with a body, a body in touch with the world, a body that is not at ease in the world; a body that fidgets and moves around.” 

Sara Ahmed

 

I.  

It begins with a body, your body  

about four kilograms, with wrinkled fingers, swelling toes expanding  

out of miniature green converse high-tops and  

a belly that caves in at four, shrivelling  

bones gradually protruding, wriggling out from tender pink flesh,  

until the reflection in the mirror responds; reconfigures 

carving new forms from old materials,  

like the way your wild curls flattens, lettuce in a day-old sandwich  

sitting in the sun  

or the way your breasts inflate,  

balloons blown up overnight with air pumps from the garage 

learning to collect blood in public washrooms, dabbing away  

little crimson dots,  

and the hourglass birthmark on your left thigh, a cluster of speckles  

clouding your vision  

and dark chocolate eyes melting  

under the supervision of black discount frames 

pushed up 

by bitten fingers and calloused palms and pinkies not quite straight, 

mimicking the slight curve in your hips and buttocks, 

indented by a billion microscopic asteroids, having retreated back to the galaxies before impact 

fingers and toes and belly and lettuce and balloons and eyes and hips and buttocks  

amounting 

compiling to five-and-a-half feet, 

five bags of ten-pounds potatoes from Costco 

these are declarations of a body 

your body. 

 

 

II. 

A body in touch with the world,  

is the way bodies touch, the way bodies love,  

the way your body fall in love with touch and 

the way your body falls in love with the touch of the world.  

 

is the way … you cry at the sight of cartoons and claps of thunder  

but chuckle at cartoon thunder, sprawled in a passed-down red cape  

little red ridding hood wriggling across cream tiles in the kitchen, 

of a mahjong house and mahjong beds and mahjong people,  

constant deafening clicking  

like giant fruit flies nibbling your ears, nibbling  

pineapple buns on your uncle’s lap,  

your bony fingers digging into tired shoulders, sniffing in aftershave. 

 

is the way… you hold an earth worm in sixth grade,  

pink flesh slithering across shaking hands caked with speckles  

 of Campbell’s tomato soup with extra black pepper and no grilled cheese,  

because you ask your mother why you eat steamed rice every day, and  

canned soup is all you can cook when 

walking back to school, socks soaked from the rain, icy toes  

running from wriggling soil and that girl from Venezuela  

during recess, giggling in Spanish. 

 

is the way... you packed a suitcase in late August and  

dyed your hair crimson in early September 

cramming your mother’s leather boots in an olive duffle bag  

attempting to clear domestic security with  

wriggling bodies in your luggage,  

especially when sitting in your favourite café and the sunlight floods your face, so 

                                                        you bury yourself in sentimentality and vintage shops,  

       thinking the circle under your eyes explicate the Sartre under your Americano. 

 

                                        is the way       you realize      a body... 

is the way you fall, out of touch, out of love with the world, 

 

like spontaneously falling down a hill, covered with pinecones and chocolate syrup  

because the way you fall is sticky and sweet and prickly all at once   

and you cannot seem to remember,  

how you got to the bottom of the hill and pissed yourself in your 1972 Levis  

liquid streaming down your legs, gathering a little dark pool  

in your hands. 

 

III. 

A body not at ease in the world  

is how you pick off pinecones and chocolate syrup,  

while walking home, shivering from mid-autumn rain   

having thrown away your Levis and underwear and... 

licking chocolate off your urine-stained hands to keep off starvation  

 

though this is a mild metaphor in comparison to the sensations in your body  

like comparing getting hit by a cargo truck to  

travelling to a bridge every night waiting to jump off,  

waiting for death to wait for death;  

a hospital waiting room that leads you to another waiting room, 

 

like being birthed to an absent mother and running out of milk 

like being put in a pink dress without being asked, laying in the hospital crib 

like being forgotten in a mahjong den, screaming on a tattered leather couch 

 

like being taunted by pre-schoolers while walking home alone 

like being ridiculed in your passed-down school uniform, little holes sprinkled  

like being mocked for offering a homeless man coins stolen from wallets 

 

like being told you need a skirt to be a girl 

like being forced to play piano in a tutu with your legs crossed  

like being told the best thing you can do with your life is to win a pageant  

 

like your relatives squinting at your new shape, frowning at billowing breasts and curves  

like your friend teaching you to hide  

like your father’s penetrating gaze 

 

like picking up wood shavings off the dining room floor, shattered chair in the corner,  

like sobbing on basement carpet with ice over your splintering lips  

like telling you it’s your fault 

 

like self-inflicted pools of purple-brown under your long-sleeved shirts 

like little streams of crimson on your wrist 

like rivers of crimson on your wrist  

 

like the middle-aged men that jeered at you in an alleyway, blocking the exit  

like the woman who cornered you at the bar, insisting you go home with her  

like the man who followed you from the subway station, hands stroking over his sweatpants 

 

like that time he locked you in the car after asking what you would do if he raped you 

like that time he pushed you on the bed and pressed a pillow over your head for too long 

like your own mother calling you a slut 

 

like a metaphor that is not at all a metaphor; a simile that is not a simile 

no matter how much you want it to be 

like knowing that your body is at war, or rather  

knowing that your body is at war 

knowing that there is no such thing as true love 

when it concerns the touch of the world  

knowing there is only a mildly metaphorical violence and  

knowing there is real violence. 

 

IV. 

A body that fidgets and moves, 

squirms and shifts, wriggles and stirs,  

and otherwise forces you to 

dig up metaphors and similes to define the sensations in your body 

otherwise forces you to  

purchase army trousers from an underground thrift shop  

and Sun Tzu from a second-hand bookstore 

it is not unlike  

the way Hitler mobilized a genocide 

or the way America hired capitalism’s most eligible married bachelor  

it might be distasteful to compare yourself to Nazis  

but distaste is the least of your worries  

when starting a world war non-ironically is on this year’s agenda  

and not even United Nations can stop you from invading,  

every memory of cuts and wounds on your body  

when you are still pulling out wood splinters and tying towels around your wrist years later, 

when you sit with a shot of whiskey every time you remember  

the word  

slut  

shooting out of your mother’s mouth like bullets from your father’s automatic rifles 

slut… with a three-round internal magazine  

now you drink a bottle of Glenlivet, swing bats at anyone that approach unannounced  

now you carry a sword and hand grenades to upset the general populace  

now you maintain a scowl to complete your signature outfit   

now you know you have to   

now you know you have no choice  

slam the door if anyone says hello with incorrect intonation  

cry at the neighbourhood fruit stand if the cashier is brash with you  

 

lock your family in the basement if they make another remark about refugees 

scream if a man’s first words to you include the phrase ‘good-looking’ or ‘nice rack’ 

draw blood if you are hurt  

an eye for an eye  

an arm for an arm   

a heart for a heart  

a life for a life  

this is not bitterness, but rather 

it is the highest form of justice … 

you have to strategize as if you are Kanye West taking down Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Awards  

you have to prepare as if you have signed up for a lifetime membership of high intensity interval training and commit to some neon leg warmers 

you have to thrash as if possessed by the spirit of a fifteenth-century witch burning at the stakes cursing short bald men in tights and frilly blouses 

you have to chant the entirety of the Communist Manifesto while getting fucked at a glacial pace in the university library  

you have to sacrifice yourself every night at local cult rituals, laying naked on scorched grass just so you can write poetry about it 

it is the highest form of justice… 

to start a war against the world 

it is a one-woman operation 

and you hope you can make Sun Tzu proud.  

Cecily Ou

Cecily Ou is writer, curator, and independent textile practitioner based in the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Wendat, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations in Tkaronto. She is beginning her fourth year in the Visual and Critical Studies program at OCADU, where she is on the advisory committee of Onsite Gallery. Her practice is focused on community-based projects, de-centralized arts production, and the insurgent influence of craft media within cultural institutions. Recent publications are found in The Senses and Society and Blackflash Expanded. She is currently the programming assistant at the Textile Museum of Canada, operations manager at Sur Gallery, and co-curating the window gallery of Gallery 1313 in association with WIAprojects, a feminist arts informed research and practice program. 

Works Cited 

  • Ahmed, Sara. “Feminism is Sensational,” In Living a Feminist Life, Duke University Press, 2017, pp. 21-42.