Two Sirens – Orpheus Changes Shape

Siren (detail from Ulysses) - Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse, Ulysses and the Sirens (detail)


John William Waterhouse, The Siren

The world is in constant strings. Perhaps one day, Orpheus, after the women’s unmet desires have torn your beautiful body to shreds, after your severed head has floated long enough in the sea with your lyre tied by the invisible filaments of loyalty to the lobe of your ear, the salty water will gather organic matter and refashion you a body; a body like the body of the one who loved you right, Melusina, a body of in-betweenness, nautical and feminine. The water will mould you into the thing you spent so long chasing.

Your hair will have grown long, released its approximate curl, your skin washed soft and silver by the water, your legs will end in fins and scales. Your voice will return once the water builds you a torso and a pair of lungs. You will spend your days twisting your tail underwater, swimming with more ease than the souls dragged down the Styx. You will sit with lilac water in your veins, perched on sun-warmed rocks to sing songs without words, searching the waters for Persephone. Your song is a seeker, it is limpid, pleading no longer.

Imagine your body, Orpheus, washed clean of agitation and dread. When you loved Melusina’s brief sun, it was because you knew Hades would come to an end, by which time you would become someone like her, you knew the shape her body had come from. It took Eurydice slipping away in a seemingly endless recurrence for the self to craft itself. Mending takes place within the boundaries of the tear. The Underworld is no place for poets, but the skies and waters are.

Your lyre, the patient dog, returns to your arms and gives you its strings. Everything is as it was, returned to the wordless calm of a time before Eurydice’s ankle fell prey to tragedy. Love is once again a possibility. The body is new, the rawness under the skull appeased. All this to look forward to, Orpheus, when your body escapes repetition’s toughened grip and takes on a silence of a different kind.

To Dance

On the itchy chair I watch the orchestra as it lies prostrate on the stage like a giant animal scratching its ticks, and I remember that a conductor is not at all leading a vehicle but operates the way a sculptor does, smearing the sounds into shapes with his hands.

Being part of an orchestra always felt to me like being someone else’s paint, someone’s matter, a sensation I found twofold even then, perversely so, on the one side my desire to give life to my own mind in space, and on the other the delight of being only a small part of that living body, my instrument’s voice pushed around to make sense alongside the others, all of us melting into place under the hands of the person painting this deliberate, fleeting masterpiece with the colours we provide. 

Do I miss it now? No, I left it behind, like so many ways of being.

But my body remembers what it felt like, the rasp of resinous hair on strings, how the arm lifted and the breath changed when he raised his hand and closed his fist.


There is something I haven’t fully considered about writing, which is that every time I work on a story I do so in streaks: for a few days, all of my mental (and –to a certain degree– physical) energy is focused on this one story, on existing in its universe, responding to its demands.

It is like getting on a ride of sorts and my body and psychology are set to the movement of the ride, responding to its rise and fall, orienting me based on where the ride takes me. Or perhaps more like climbing aboard a ship.

But then, after a few days, or even a week (depending on how lucky I am with stamina, with the length of my streak), I climb back out of the story-ship’s bowels and return to the motionless shore of non-immersion, the basic state of living when I am not thinking my way through a writing project. Even if I haven’t finished the story I was working on, adapting to the shores of non-immersion takes me a while: I need to regain focus and balance.

The feeling is the same as being lost but feeling the need to keep moving: the same hectic pull.

Every time, I climb or fall out of the story onto sold ground and it feels like sea-legs; I feel dizzy, disoriented, but also angry with myself for feeling this way; I tell myself,

‘What do you mean? You are a terrestrial creature, not a fish: you belong on the land, this is your home, where you were born. And yet only after a few days or weeks at sea you mean to tell me that you suffer from a sense of disorientation on the very ground your legs have evolved to tread?’

This is, of course, only a metaphor – and I like to stretch those a bit. But it puts into words the feelings I have been battling for the past few days. My disorientation makes no sense to me: all I did was climb on a boat/story allow the motion of the waves to carry me, affect my sense of balance for a while, and then climb back out onto a shore that should feel stable and firm, a ground that isn’t supposed to be spinning, a horizon I have convinced myself should the straight and clear.

But here I am, without focus and, most of all, berating myself for it instead of accepting that this is simply part of the process.

But here I also am, writing it out, making sense of it for myself so that I may eventually learn to accept it.


[I am currently working on a story that deals with the Body and its place within the Self, and in order not to lose myself in the process I keep a small notebook on the side (of course) in which to go over what is happening from the perspective of my characters, record thoughts or insights they may have.]


Despite what some religions say, it seems inevitable that the Body outlives the Self -the I- over and over. 

When the body grows old, it remains itself no matter how many limbs it loses, and no matter how many bacteria inhabit its cavities, how much turnover occurs within the cells, the body aims to replicate what it already knows and is. By the time the body dies, the I has dried up countless times and been replaced with a more vital version of itself, plumper, more current – perhaps on a daily basis. We learn so much, so quickly. 

Among the constellation of things that we are, the body is possibly the most consistent, and this is perhaps why it upsets us so much that it cannot be impervious to the effects of living: if, despite its inconsistency, our body is the most consistent part we have, its inevitable mutations become terrifying reminders of the chaos we inhabit.