The surface of my right hand is constellated with tiny specks and lacerations, the remnants of play with my cat. He likes to bite. I know it’s wrong to encourage a cat to bite, but my hand is his favorite toy and the both of us often get carried away in rough-housing. The wounds heal quickly. Cells reproduce and patch the cuts by making new skin. I have nothing to do with it. I have no idea how my cells accomplish this, even though they’re my cells. Which makes me wonder: to what extent might I think of those cells as my cells? Is my own body truly my own body? I don’t know how my stomach digests food, transforms it to energy and muscle, or channels the proper vitamins to the proper glands. When it comes to my body, I feel like someone along for the ride. And when the ride ends, I end. I am, after all, no more nor less than my body. I do not believe in a soul that is separate from the body, but if this proves to be the case, no one will be more surprised than me to find it floating around when my body is gone. My body and its actions are a mystery to me, a factory where I have a high level position, and bear some responsibility for the burden I inhabit, but haven’t the faintest idea what the engineers and supply managers in their respective offices are doing. I feel like a CEO looking out from the top of my head, enjoying the benefits of my body’s labors and ingenious devices, but clueless as to how anything is done on the ground level. So who am I? Who are you? Who is anyone? Are we ghosts haunting our own skin? What makes an identity? What are its components? Right now my cat is sleeping, and dreaming. His limbs twitch and he makes little whimpering sounds. Who is this little guy? He doesn’t know either. He just likes to bite my hand. And eat. And sleep. And stare out the window.
John Olson is the author of Backscatter: New And Selected Poems, from Black Widow Press, Souls Of Wind, a novel about the notorious French poet Arthur Rimbaud in the American West, from Quale Press, and The Nothing That Is, an autobiographical novel from Ravenna Press. Larynx Galaxy, a collection of essays and prose poetry, appeared in June, 2012, from Black Widow Press. The Seeing Machine , a novel about French painter Georges Braque, is forthcoming from Quale Press.