There are the nights, few as they may be, where you allow for an element of stillness, see the world spreading out before you for what it is, feel the weight of flesh and bone, the grind of joint and tension of ligament. On a few of those nights, the ones where everything is made visible for the briefest of moments, you are made aware of the true ownership of your body. The boundaries may not be clear, the parceling out of territories and function not entirely understood, but the basic principle comes into focus.
There are the districts where you are sovereign. The conducting of limbs and digits, the motion of pupils and shuttering of eyelids, the tongue lashing out in its chamber, speech. You dictate direction, mastication, fornication, the length and intensity of motion, sometimes breath. You take comfort in your tyranny, and feel your great responsibility over these jurisdictions commands respect. You are at ease in your complete autocracy.
And then you notice the boundaries. There are great tracts of flesh over which you have no dominion or even visibility. They are more mysterious to you than the stars. The command of organs in their cages, the constant amalgamation of endless proteins, the regulation of immigrant bacteria throughout the intestines, the administration over continents of cells. Tracing the perimeter you gradually comprehend the size and character of the puny slum you govern, and the vast empire over which you are but a figurehead.
You hunt your food and cook it and masticate it. Then it enters that other country. You create darkness and practice stillness until the conditions are right for sleep. But as you drift off, it is to neighborhoods you do not oversee or even understand. You work ceaselessly to find pleasure with a partner. But once the seed is planted, the entire process of creation, the something from almost nothing, is an untranslatable galaxy.
This other world has no sovereign, you tell yourself. It is but a machine you watch over, at times appreciate, generally ignore. All the acres of mitochondria regulate themselves, the enzymes transport themselves, the red blood cells wage their wars autonomously. Your biological symphony has no conductor, it is mere clockwork. You are the keeper and caretaker of an unfathomable apparatus.
And yet there are nights, very different nights, when you are overwhelmed by guilt at your vices, when a raging self-hatred engulfs you for the regrettable choices you have made. And at those moments, were you to pay closer attention, you would realize that it isn’t the self mad at the self. There is another audience which sparks your self-consciousness, your embarrassment and your self-loathing. You are letting down that other intelligence, the one that you quietly acknowledge dwarfs your own. You are unknowingly put in your place, quaking in fear of that greater presence.
Illustration by Elisa Zorzan