Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

As our ever-tightening cycle of fashion retrospective brought us back through the ’80’s these past couple of years, I found myself constantly reminded of the aerobics health craze of that era. Headbands and leg-warmers, Olivia Newton John videos, an awesome scene in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” involving Joan of Arc — aerobics appeared widely in pop culture, and, in so doing, archived itself as a defining element of the decade. The ’80’s are also known as a time of status materialism, manifested not only in conspicuous consumption, but also in body worship, from bran muffins and margarine to ankle-weights and treadmills.

Chapter 102, “A Bower in the Arsacides,” made me think of ’80’s body worship. An island king offers Ishmael the opportunity to visit the skeleton of a sperm whale, converted by the king into a temple for worship. Vines and other greenery have long since woven through the skeleton in a lush warp of vitality — “Life folded Death; Death trellised Life.” We can point to a circle-of-life message here, but there’s a catch: in his wanderings within the skeleton, Ishmael sees “no living thing within; naught was there but bones.” There’s something hollow in this living temple, a hollowness echoed in Ishmael’s later discussion of an English Lord’s use of his own whale skeleton for both study and commerce. In these examples, we see the body as a frame to support and nurture life (plants, thoughts, enterprise), though being empty in and of itself.

Nevertheless, I’m hoping you will stand to practice some torso twists, side reaches, and knee lifts as you listen to this week’s song. Wear your best Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons outfit if you wish — the body’s a temple!

Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

Turn, and turn, and turn,
The body’s a temple!
Turn, and turn, and turn,
The body’s a temple!

Everybody go to an island in the Arsacides!
In a hilltop glen, find the secrets of a function
Long layered as the base,
Foundation of every dead and living race.
It’s all in the body,
The memory of body.

Turn, and turn, and turn,
The body’s a temple!
Turn, and turn, and turn,
The body’s a temple!

Every man a life woven through the spaces of every death.
Frames of passage carved with a long-learned certainty.
A pean to the shoulders
We grow on, but not over.
A density, breathing.
Oh, oh.

How to measure life? Turn into the body,
Measure every rib, measure every quarry.
Every bit is made from a something made before.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 20, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea August 7, 2009