The Splendid Body

The splendid body is meat, flexor
and flesh pumping, pulling, anti-
gravity maverick just standing
upright all over museums and
in line for the bus and in the laundry
aisle where it’s just standing there
smelling all the detergent like
it’s no big deal. So what if a couple
of its squishy parts are suspended
within, like beach-bungled jellyfish
in a shelved jar, not doing anything?
Nothing on this side of the quantum
tunnel is perfect. The splendid body,
though, is splendid in the way
it keeps its steamy blood in, no matter
how bad it blushes. And splendid
in how it opens its mouth and
these invisible vibrations come
rippling out—if you put your wrist
right up to it when that happens
it feels somewhat like the feet
of many bees. The splendid body
loves the juniper smell of gin, loves
the warmth of printer-fresh paper,
and the sound fallen leaves make
under the wheel of a turning car.
If you touch it between the legs,
the splendid body will quicken
like bubbles in a just-on teakettle.
It knows it can’t exist forever, so
it’s collecting as many flavors as it can—
saffron, rainwater, fish-skin, chive.
Do not distract it from its purpose,
which is to feel everything it can find.


Copyright © 2023 by Rebecca Lindenberg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem is part of a longer project called Our Splendid Failure to Do the Impossible. That project began during the COVID-19 lockdown, because, everywhere I looked, I saw the words ‘diabetes’ and ‘severe outcome’ within an inch of each other on page after page of news, public service announcements, medical studies, etc. As a Type 1 diabetic for over thirty years now, I found that scary and distracting. That, in turn, prompted me to write more directly about my experience growing up with an incurable, life-threatening illness and the way it’s shaped my life, my imagination, and, in turn, my art and other ways I have of knowing. I see this particular poem as examining the ways in which chronic disease prevents us from taking the body and its intersections with the world for granted. Usually, that’s one of the hardest things about living with my condition; but it can, at times, feel almost celebratory.”
—Rebecca Lindenberg