Material Bodies: Narrative text 3

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A friend has asked me to pose nude for some photographs, with my son. Half scared, half flattered — wanting to be looked at (remembering the time someone told me I looked like a Goya painting. I’ve always clung to that), but frightened that the camera might not like what it sees, and afraid to acknowledge my own narcissism. Fear and excitement also about venturing into unknown territory and losing control. More than anything, I want to see someone else’s images of this relationship between me and my son who is so ill and looks so beautiful and still. Usually camera shy (I’d rather not see that double chin, and my slouching posture, constant reminders that my fate is sealed: I’m going to end up looking like my mother. In fact I already look like my mother), this reminds me of other times when I’ve wanted to be photographed… aged five, dressed in a home-made butterfly costume “A perfect profile of a paunch,” said my uncle. “What’s a paunch?” – I loved to perform — puppet shows, school plays, children’s opera group, Gilbert and Sullivan…. and loved to be photographed in costume and makeup. I felt disappointed when the head of department embargoed my topless scene in the university Russian department play. But when I wasn’t performing, I would swathe myself in huge men’s sweaters. I remember posing in a tree, aged 13, convinced I looked winsome and elusive, like a wood-nymph.

…waking up in hospital, blurred with anaesthetic, I asked “Where’s the baby?” “There is no baby.”
A nurse handed me my first son — perfectly beautiful, pale and dead. I sat cradling him, enchanted at how perfectly he fitted in my arms, and how I knew just the right way to bend my neck to gaze down at him. I wanted everyone to see this image ~- a perfect madonna and child. The nurse took some polaroids but they got lost in the chaos. They gave me tablets to dry up the milk (but I went on squeezing my nipples for weeks, to see drops appear, and remind myself what a good mother I was.) The caesarian scar and a sagging belly were all that remained of my child. I didn’t really want to win back my pre-pregnancy figure. When I went back to work I’d had my hair cut radically short. It gave people a ready-made change of subject after two sentences of embarrassed condolence.

How to finish off? A haiku would have been better, or a hundred pages — anything in between seems like an embarassing precis, but this will have to do.

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