Issue 8: Stillness vs. Frenzy
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program

Pas de Deux

Lisa Harper

    Near the end, she grew stronger, her movements more purposeful, and I was often startled by her forcefulness. I imagined her pressing into her dark world, an explorer discovering a continent. I imagined her trying to carve her way out, to seek out more space. A punching heel, the tickling of tiny fingers, the thrust of the knee. An elbow swells, a knee forms a small hillock. My belly rose in hills and sharp peaks, undulating waves, and one night, what might have been a forearm, or a shin, rose to form a small ridge. I felt like a world, with a world inside me.

    Our bodies remember so that we may forget.
    There is something called muscle memory, a knowledge that resides deep in the bones, that comes only with repetition, with endless hours of practice. It is experiential knowledge, shared by all who work with their bodies, and it is a knowledge that precedes language and thought. It allows the body to know what to do before it is told. Only then, in that surrendered knowledge, can your body truly be said to know something, to know anything. It is the knowledge that possesses the batter at the moment of the swing, the diver as she opens to pierce the water, the dancer as she unfurls, alive and jubilant, from a pirouette. It is knowledge shared by the child who catches her balance and the baby who has learned, finally, to sit, to crawl.
    What I remember: inhabiting my body. Understanding how space unfolds from within. How power begins there, coiled in darkness, and then is loosed, translated to torso, to limbs, and beyond to the world. I learned the expanse of my body, I learned its limits.

    Our first movements are buried in darkness. The womb is the center of our first world, a globe curving to meet our shape.  Unconscious we test the waters. We roll against our horizon and kick to the very limits of our universe. Shadow boxers, we imprint our own geography, an embryonic Braille on our mother’s body. Long before we are seen or heard, we are felt. Before we cry or think or love, before we breathe or know or speak, we move. Bodies do many things, in many ways. But first, they move.




i Blackburn, Susan Tucker and Donna Lee Loper.  Maternal, Fetal, and Neonatal Physiology:  A Clinical Perspective.  Philadelpia:  W.B. Saunders Company, 1992. 64.

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