“Beautiful Bodies” – By Amy Berstein

June 10, 2022

1. Skin

With a wave of my hand—

       yes, this hand wrapped in wrinkled skinfolds
       striated with veins like ridges across a mountain range,
       its ancient beauty splayed for admiring—

With a wave of this hand
I banish the illusionary elixir,

this boastful bottle of serum, a trumped-up mixture of
vitamin A1 commingled with vitamin B3

drowning in

propylene glycol
stearyl ether
dicaprylyl carbonate
isohexadecane


calling itself retinol in a tiny-stoppered bottle—
stopper your ears, ladies, as the shouting begins


for younger looking skin!
an even glow!


I wave this loose-skinned hand in curt dismissal toward
Big Pharma salivating over its money-minting patent formulas,


peddling shame and barely concealed disgust
disguised as a conveyor belt of brainwashing chemicals


that swear to you they will plump your collagen and
expedite cell regeneration


give you back your best self—
or the self you expect to become


but this old hand knows better, now,
than to swallow lies saying I’m not good enough


not fit to be seen in public with wrinkles that
trumpet my status, my reality, my wisdom


I wave away all those seeking to stigmatize me
and with arms open wide, proclaim: Take me as I am!

2. Bones


Bones are the world’s truest democracy,
a jointed confederation of cooperation


common to every humanoid
irrespective of skin tones or sexual pleasures


What if our bones could speak for us?


I envision a convention of bones
in all their hardened ivory glory


bending and jangling,
this way and that


elbows, knees, ankles,
shoulders, scapulae, spines


our skulls normalized as visages,
not terrifying harbingers of death


and at this Bone Convention,
the talk is of unity and harmony


getting together for bubble baths
and backyard barbecues


and no one gives a thought to
whose femur is longer,


whose spine is straight or bent,
whose toe joints angle crookedly


for once we shed our skin and
subcutaneous fat,


once we have no reason to question
whose blood runs blue


or how our pants fit
or whose breasts are right-sized


well, then, we can no longer hide
the fact that we are, after all, much the same.

3. Body


Carrying the corpus around for a lifetime
is basic to life’s bargain:


Wherever you go, there you are.


You’d think we’d make peace with this
elaborate bag of water that we
drag around for decades at a stretch.


Not like we have a choice.


You can’t stick your head in one room
and leave your body in another.


Or bring your head and your pretty hair
to the party, while your body sits home
alone, rejected, unappreciated.


One package is all we get—
the thinking, feeling, existing,
all tendoned together.


Your body is your home,
your genetic proof of ID—
only one to a customer.


Hey, that’s pretty neat, right?


You’ve got yours.
I’ve got mine.
No two are alike.
I’m gonna claim the one I got, then.


The only body I’ll ever own,
no matter what I do to it—or
try to do to it.


I can bend, stretch, twist,
pull, tear, break, abuse,
pet, stroke, love, paint,
gorge, starve—


I can do all those things,
and more besides.


But at the end of each day,
when I turn out the light
I fall asleep in a bag of water
blanketed in fragrant skin
dotted with hairs and holes
and the odd mole—


and it’s all me, all the time
and nobody can take that away.

4. Mind


Like a riddle that begs to be solved,
or a trick box with a hidden trap door


the mind is unseeable, invisible
for all intents and purposes


—not the brain, with its dura and squish


no, the mind—


What really goes on in there?


I’m never sure.
But I have suspicions.


The mind is a trickster—
and tricksters aren’t especially nice.


The trickster whispers, the voices
filling my private cavities


telling me I’m too this, too that
not enough this, not enough that


lumpy / saggy / loud / clueless
old / useless / unhip


the slaughter of messages flows on…


in the wrong place / ill-equipped
not clever enough /


over-reaching / under-performing


oh, yes, there’s more, but
isn’t that enough?


Isn’t it always enough? Too much?


I want to be in control, for once,
oh, yes! I want to take charge and
tell the mind what to think and say—
no longer at its mercy,
its torturing beck and call


but how?


the trickster mind maintains an iron grip


and so I’ll seek out a tiny crack
of unconquered consciousness


where I imagine myself the author
of all the messages


where a new voice emerges to say:


you are more than enough
the bees’ knees
the queen of hearts
the be-all, end-all
hot stuff
yeah, you.


V. Soul


Who are you
right this very second
and who will you be
an hour from now
five years
a decade
taking your last breath?


Who are you
when grief lays upon you
like a weight that cannot
be lifted?


When joy stops your breath?


When you catch a glimpse of
yourself in a windowpane or
in the eyes of someone close?


Who are you when you finally
come face-to-face with—


you?


With all your perceived flaws
and faults and misgivings
and regrets and not-enoughs?


That right there, right then,
is your soul,
speaking your truth—
to you—
and to everyone who really
ought to be listening.


If ever all the souls converge,
if that’s a thing,
then we’ll all know
what we have,


and what we have is
our own glorious imperfection


alongside everyone else’s
glorious imperfection


and together, and also alone,
we are


perfect.


Amy L. Bernstein writes for the page, the stage, and forms in between. Her novels include The Potrero ComplexThe Nighthawkers, and Fran, The Second Time Around. Amy’s poetry leans heavily on free-form prose poems that address psychological and political states of mind. She is an award-winning journalist, playwright, and certified nonfiction book coach. Follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Medium, or visit her website for more info.

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