The Second Body + The Thought Has A Mind Of Its Own

Claire Donato


If a person is struck by a body, is that painful?
If a person is struck by a second body, is that even more painful?
We can expect painful experiences (the first body).
The second body is the suffering.

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This is not the story of a person; this is the story of her limn. This story is not complete; it will never be. In astronomy, the totality of a solar eclipse refers to the coverage of the sun by the moon, although aspects of this phenomenon become eclipsed in their retelling, just as this story is eclipsed by conflicting lines of thought, ideas that air their grievances via the mind’s sheath where, unhappily, the world is yet to come.

Call me No. My name is No. I am No, the determiner writing this. I cannot tell this story in its entirety, although I promise I am making an attempt. To go out on a limn is an excessive practice that causes a paragraph’s body to bloat, to become a silhouette outlined in dim gold light. By light, I am referring to the story’s most basic element: the part of the text that reflects two eyes, a nose, a mouth; a forehead, chin, and hair; a set of cheeks, a set of teeth, ten fingers; a bony neck, collarbones, shoulder blades; two hips, one stomach, breasts, ribs, and obliques. I am referring to the story’s organs, its written script, its type. And although there is no way of writing one’s story without implicating oneself as a letter of the alphabet, I am asking you now to close your eyes and picture thin, black strokes; to imagine a world where no content exists: only kaleidoscopic patterns whose reflections amount to nothing.

How does one crack through a thing so unclear that not even the most starry hunter can decipher its meaning? On August 3, 1986, my hot, glowing body appeared to cook in the flame, illuminating my entrance into this story where, halfheartedly, the fire is blown out. The flame is extinguished. The center of it omits—leaves out, excludes—for I was both dead and alive on the day I was born, split in two like an oyster on its half shell. As I lay dying—or as I lay dead, half-born, half-alive—the midwife drove to City Hall to register my name on a birth certificate, thereby ensuring my obituary’s appearance in the following week’s newspaper. So what if later I opened my eyes, consumed oxygen? The center point between my death and birth—my limn—is an unwritten trans, a miniature tree planted in a pot wherein this text’s passage begins. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I am considering, in my own mind, as well as I can, whether the pleasure of excavating the limn of my birth is worth the falling in.

‘No,’ my mind’s thought says. ‘Your life’s story is complete.’ At which point I think to myself: It will never be. Until the mystery of my life between my death and birth, my limn, is solved, this text will be abridged. By text, I am referring to the part of my mind the color of burnt bones, lampblack soot. By limn, I am referring to the inscrutable space between my death and birth where my mind’s fish swims well beyond my consciousness, far more aware of the text in its belly than I.

The space leading down, down, down into my limn is dark and deep. Its walls are lined with bookshelves, maps, and pictures. Surely there are doors leading to it, I think to myself, and my thoughts begin talking again. My mind’s fish begins swimming again. It glides along; it steers and stops; it positions itself between each thought’s every word, clinging like a leech. When a fish clings to bait, it is clinging to a substance it believes to be alive, much in the same way a person generally convinced her thoughts are temperamental attaches emotions to ideas.

One’s ideas are not alive; yet they are not dead, exactly. Before they begin, they take place in a limn, a midpoint where the thought implicated in a person’s thinking—or a person’s having already thought—is. And that third-person singular present of the verb to be is what links thought to a gift: to occupy a position in space in one’s mind—to simultaneously exist within and then let go the thought—is to enact an important theme in one’s limn’s oeuvre, where mind cannot distinguish between what is and what is not. I cannot cling to my mind’s fish, but I can follow it, just as I can track the caesura between each thought:            . There is a pause.

There is nothing so remarkable about my mind’s lone fish. It is orange, more colorful than a carp, with light yellow gradients alongside its gills. Its bright yellow eyes contain black beads, and its mind boasts a memory-span of at least three months. It can distinguish between shapes—squares, circles, octagons, etc.—and it moves in a hurry, performing little tricks to amuse and entertain. (I do not dare write ‘me’ at the end of the previous clause, for the fish exists as much for itself as it does for my thoughts, which possess minds of their own.) But the fish does not exist for mere entertainment; rather, it lives to convey information, incantations that invoke supernatural forms, hidden places, and the dead. It is not me, as I am it. It has already begun to tell the story, offering no choice: I must follow it.

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Down, down, down, my journey begins, only I am not falling down: I am falling in. Oh, how I wish I could relay to you the exact sensation of falling through my limn, an act at once physical yet wholly separate from the world.

To begin, there is no tunnel illuminated by a candle. There is no lamp with a switch. My skirt does not serve as an umbrella against the wind, nor do I have time to select a red bound book from a nearby table. I do not skim its pages; I do not let go the book to rest awhile in a rocking chair. I do not pause to study a map, nor does my body invert—or it does, and I land on the crown my head, the body’s reset button, in sirsasana II, a yogic inversion in which the body, upside-down and supported by the palms (placed flat on the ground), is held upright. Here, the world is capsized, the size of a cap, a replica of something much smaller than normal. What a curious feeling! Am I too a small thing? All things considered, I begin to chew on the inside of cheek.

I chew and chew and chew, and I shrink and shrink and shrink. And so it is indeed I am now only ten inches high—reduced to miniature dimensions, so to speak. Instead of panicking or bursting into a pool of tears, I begin to reminisce, to sort through memory’s files and folders, whose names are too long for their destinations—e.g., c:\memory\individual\explicit\episodic; c:\memory\individual\explicit\semantic; c:\memory\individual\explicit\autobiographical; c:\memory\individual\implicit\procedural; c:\memory\individual\implicit\priming; c:\memory\individual\implicit\perceptual; c:\memory\collective\communicative;c:\memory\collective\cultural\storage m.; c:\memory\collective\cultural\functional m.—and whose strings of letters nonetheless settle my reactive tendencies and comfort my mind, bright pink like the moon.

By invoking multiple perspectives, memory acts as a choose-your-own-adventure story. So state the story’s rules: The navigatress—the reader, or in this case, one’s ‘I’—chooses to proceed from one event to the next, or she does not. Depending whereupon her eye (I) wanders, her ear may hear a voice. Then another. Then the next. ‘I am sure,’ one voice says. ‘Not at all,’ another says. ‘I said it,’ says another, and as in a general assembly, each voice is given an equal chance to participate, although one voice may never participate. Regardless, one’s voice is embodied in the text, even if the reader opts to redirect her path. Memory’s corrupt file’s folders, thus, make up the composite I shall hereby refer to as my limn, one fully immersive, illuminated, recollective text.

My limn, therefore, is an extension of the reading process, and I am its skipper, its navigatress.

Why is only one side of the moon visible to Earth? Made unreliable by perspective, the moon—much like a person’s mind’s so-called immersive recollections—is in fact the opposite of itself: a shallow thing, a dim reflection of the sun that cannot be pinned down. In its state of flux, it draws attention to one’s fear, a person’s shadow self. And what is a shadow but a specter between bodies, the ghost of everything that has and will remain unsaid? Carl Jung: ‘Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’

‘I don’t have thoughts; I have secrets,’ I say to someone brave enough to listen, and rather than functioning as a successful imitation of my mind, this statement’s surface acts as a two-dimensional projection displayed atop a polytope, a unit line meant to represent flux, as in a magnetic field. The whole of the, the every bit of the, the complete, entire, marvelous one-way motion of this statement makes grammatical my inner world. Indeed, my mind may exist a vacuum, as per Zen Buddhist thought, yet it is a region where the force of grammar acts, and on its stage—within its drama—my shadow struggles to comprehend itself. Attractive and repulsive forces coexist, as do multiple voices, in contrast with linear explanatory prose, the ‘comfort narrative’ that offers only one preferred reading of itself. Bearing literary faddishness in mind, I admit to multiple voices resounding in my head. They help me touch the past.

Let us go then, you and I, as two charged particles circulating around the same orbit, and revisit the place of my death.

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CLAIRE DONATO is the author of two books: Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2013), a novel, and The Second Body (Poor Claudia, Spring 2016), a collection of poems. Also a digital language artist, she collaborates on Special America, a multimedia intervention, and various netprovs (networked improv narratives), and is a co-curator of WordHack Reading Series at Babycastles Gallery in Manhattan. Currently, she is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Architecture Writing and BFA Writing programs at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Visit or follow @clairedonato.