Summer Chronicles 2019 #4: The Body Electric on the Beach

by on July 15, 2019 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

A stroll down the beach on a hot summer day is a prayer to the human body.  To be in and of your body, just as it is, loving and unashamed, is everyone’s birthright.  Feeling the sun on your skin, the sand underfoot, and the cool embrace of the sea is a divine pleasure, and surely if there was no one else on the shore, it would be sublime.

But at the height of summer, the crowd too is a delight.

As I lumber along in my now middle aged body, with its surplus flesh, scars, and gray hairs beginning to mix with the rest, I lose myself in the throng of other bodies—young and old, fat and thin, oddly and elegantly shaped, homely and beautiful—all the arms, legs, backs, stomachs, breasts, backsides, and faces sun-kissed and sprinkled with fine grains of sand—a collective expression of the embodied self.

The myriad of parts and poses is a symphony of sorts, a celebration of being.  As Walt Whitman writes in “I Sing the Body Electric,” nothing else is needed but what we already have: “To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough/ To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?/ I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”

My hand in my wife’s hand, fingers intertwined as we walk, her bare shoulders brushing mine, the lovely curve of her breasts, the muscles tensing in her thighs as she moves, I think of our love together, “Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching.”

And around us, the young men and women preening and posturing, oozing with sex.  The tattoo peeking out from under a bikini bottom, the chiseled biceps of lads tossing a football, jogging with the easy grace of the fullness of youth.  Amidst the courting dance, babies running naked into the surf, harried fathers chasing after them with worried looks.

The sound of the surf, the smell of sunscreen and sweat and perfume: “There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well.  All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.”

Even more than the exquisite beauty of youth, what pleases me most is watching an elderly couple, white-haired, sun-weathered, and full of joy, jogging gingerly, hand in hand into the ocean, diving under a wave, and popping back up baptized and dripping with seawater.  Redeemed.

As we continue our journey by the vast blue Pacific, I can feel the familiar ache in my back, the usual barking from my lower left leg.  But I hold the pain tenderly, for as Whitman reminds us, “O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you/I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul).”



In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil.  As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.  The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.”  As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.”  It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe.  Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector.  So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

Nonetheless the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.







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