Our forsythia was recently pruned. The man cut here and there, telling me over his shoulder that it won’t bud too much this year, maybe next year, and the one after that. He’s not sure it’ll ever flower as it once did. I don’t tell him about the grave underneath the budding branches though he’s standing right on top of it. The marker is invisible to everyone but me: Here lies the Body of Work.
What does a Body of Work look like? I imagine it big: 20 novels at least, a couple of collections of essays and short stories, and even, in small caps, 1-2 anthologies of poetry. A YA trilogy, but not a memoir; never a memoir. The Body of Work lies dressed in faded winter jeans even in summer, a trusted Mac at its side and a watch blinking away the hours. It may have choked to death from the Bose earphones strung around its neck, the very earphones that murdered everything in the way of silence, that shut off phone calls, the loud voices from the next room, the alarm of the oil truck coming in reverse down the driveway and the dog’s whine to go for walks. Not thoughts, not doubts and feelings, never those. The face of the Body of Work is tight-lipped and pale, as though death caught it unawares while still mumbling aloud in determination. Its shoulders still slouch, the front bent sharply forward in concentration, its back bigger than the rest of her because that’s what she tried to show the world, expanding more and more each day as her world grew.
You could say the Body of Work died before its time. It never grew up though it was nourished and cosseted, favored like an only child.
At the age of 75 and gazing at the infinitude of dementia, a woman asked me a few years ago: Why does the apple fall from the tree before it is ripe?
I thought of the Body of Work lying beneath the forsythia, small and still. Perhaps it needed a bigger room in which to flower, a room as big as the world. Some writers claim their room can sometimes be as big as that. But the Body of Work tried to grow inside thin, diaphanous walls that couldn’t shut out the arms and voices. It tried to keep out distractions, knew it would never ripen within earshot of so much clamor, overwhelmed by connection. Connection finally is what brought it down to scale, reminding it that no matter how big it grew, it too would finally go the way of all things.
And it has. It lies beneath the forsythia, smaller and more shrunken than planned. Above it there are more yellow flowers than the gardener had promised for this year, perhaps nourished by the remains of the Body of Work, mass becoming particles, particles electrons, coming together and breaking apart in the longest dance in creation.