Time was, you would hire men to run at pace with what was yours, if you had the means. You would move it over craggy plain and across a hall, and as you did, there they were, marking you. These men would move at length with your belongings and in the slow meander of language it came to be that these men also belonged.
The primary notion was apparently “equally long, corresponding in length,” whence “running alongside of, parallel to, going along with, accompanying as a property or attribute”; compare belong v., also bilenge adj. (“belong adj.” OED)
In this way we have come to say that we belong to others, that we run in pace and at length with them.
It’s a beautiful image – adjusting your body to keep time with another, granting of yourself that way – and, like beautiful things, terrifying.
And unreliable. At any point one could decide to stop keeping pace with you, or get injured, or have a heart attack. You might not pay them enough. They could experience separate, solitary needs. And then what?
belong v. […] 4.a. To be connected with in various relations; to form a part of appendage of; e.g. to be a member of a family, society, or nation, to be an adherent or dependent of, to be a native or inhabitant of a place; to be a dependency, adjunct, or appendage of something; to be one of a generation of time. Also const. to, unto. (“belong v.” OED)
Our bodies are a series of loops that feed back in on themselves and acquire new data, and send that data coursing through us. And we adjust as best we can for the sake of sustainability. Sometimes the loops absorb consistent enough data that the distinction between our selves and the data we process becomes blurred. Think of carpal tunnel syndrome. Think of insulin pumps. Think of the way you appropriate a turn of phrase or a gesture from your mother. Think of braces. Think of Levin in the field with his scythe. Think of astronauts, as opposed to John Carter of Mars. Think of a grenadier’s arm.
By some accounts, Persephone was innocent and held against her will, longing always for the meadows and sunshine and the laden, watchful eye of her mother.
I prefer the accounts where an absorption of new data, an adaptation to her surroundings, an appreciation for her queenly treatment and all that deference, gives rise in her to the idea of eating the pomegranate seeds.
Edith Hamilton tells us it was customary in the classical world, and for good reason (think of digestion!), that eating another’s food made you accountable to your hosts. Persephone knew that.
Even the choice of a small secret gesture – such as eating six plump seeds of a pomegranate, such as bursting their arils, one after another, with your tongue on the roof of your mouth – even this is an ascent to keep pace with another.
And so, she belonged in a meadow, but she also belonged in Hades.
A pomegranate, where each seed contains a tree, a hundredsome chances at new life, gives rise to a grenade, which contains a hundredsome opportunities for damage or death, injury or infection. A golden boy (because we are all golden when we are icons of youth), long of limb, all sunshine and skin and unenacted drives is recruited and trained, and his muscles absorb the new data of his training and he is perfectly equipped to lob a grenade behind enemy lines. Shrapnel is a nasty business. But it doesn’t come from nothing. It is the result of the adaptation of nature and language.
But if I don’t like Persephone entirely innocent, entirely victimized, I shouldn’t like our golden boy entirely clean either. I like him golden and violent and capable and young and scared. I like him choosing to keep pace with a thing that is larger than him, and as difficult to predict. Like wielding his teenager’s hand: razor to chin. Like an allergic reaction. Like a hive that is also a lung.
When I first was confronted with the sentence “My body belongs to the U.S. government,” I bucked and reared. I was unlikely as a Clydesdale become lithe through the anger of its will. The exchange took on its own mass, like hoof to spine and push hard and return hoof to warm mud. “Bodies don’t belong to political entities. Don’t be absurd.”
Then it started to soften: “What you’re doing is perpetually granting it access. That’s different than it owning you.”
But I am unconvinced. So I indexed every word of the Constitution in alphabetical order, by hand, to find loopholes. For example:
● against domestic violence
● delivered upon claim of the party to whom such service may be due
● penis jokes: power to lay; erection; discharge
● corruption of blood
● be delivered up
I thought it would make a good poem. Which is a vow, if it’s anything at all.
It’s unseemly to cheat at vows, as you’re composing them.
If, in the moment, you stretch out your three seconds and find that time is unreliable on you, you duck. The grenade will explode in a curved V. The trajectory would look like the cleavage you used to sketch in your textbooks. It is loud like that. And every bit as violent.
Eat dirt like you’re pregnant.
Eat dirt like Demeter misses her daughter.
I am mud-splattered and sweaty in my thoughts. But maybe I blend in; maybe we are not such clean creatures as we might wish. We are permeable and conflicted and confounding and nebulous and language works on us in its way, just as we work on it with the undeniable gravity of an exploding grenade or a decomposing pomegranate.