Spine, Peacock, Spine

12 July 2019 in Writing


A section of my spine is missing. Measuring about six inches, it’s where the road behind my heart collapsed. It’s where the bridge fell. I’ll be honest: I’m an apple without a core. Now, a caterpillar lives there, in the soft void. He curls into himself, not wanting to go out, not wanting to meet people, not wanting to be noticed. Occasionally, he stretches, completing my spine, softly.

But today, I find the soft section of my spine on the sidewalk, curled into the shape of a pale green morning bun and squinting at a flower growing out of a crack in the concrete. The soft section of my spine envies the flower, which has grown up without being tended by anyone. A real scrapper, some say, admiringly. My spine uncurls and contemplates inching over to the flower to learn from it. The soft section of my spine sprouts feeler feet (ready for feeling) on either side of his primordial body. As they emerge, I am commandeered like a puppet. I straighten.

Now that the feeler feet are out, the soft section of my spine thinks it might be a centipede, not a caterpillar. The feeler feet are full of pride, full of electricity and arrogant wiggling. They think they are longer than their measure. They are prickly, but boy do they get things done. When the feeler feet are out, slouching is not allowed. Neither is fading into corners at social gatherings where strangers smile piranha smiles. The feeler feet navigate the world well and will not let anyone forget it. They are also quick to express their dislike of morning bun postures. It’s a spine at odds with itself, equal parts feeling and denial.


From the rooftop across the street, a peacock catches sight of small movements on the sidewalk. A self-wrestling caterpillar: All feet out, then curling in, now furiously unfurled. The peacock rolls its eyes, luxuriating in exasperation. The peacock luxuriates in a lot of things, from the solid emerald bulb of its body, to its body shitting lace fans all over the roof. Eyes still on the caterpillar, the peacock takes three steps to the right and contemplates lunch.

Flight is the variable in this equation. To fly or to fall? The peacock shits one last lace fan on the roof and takes three quick steps toward the unknown.

To fly! To fall! To have flown! To have fallen!

Having landed in one solid piece, the peacock decides to luxuriate in the sensation of surprise. Maths and mechanics do not compare to the marvel of the emerald bulb that is one’s body. The peacock shits a lace fan on the lawn and takes three steps forward.


The philosopher and the girl turn together down Thorax Street. Although it is the 21st century, they don’t know how to flirt other than to converse. Noticing the caterpillar, the girl begins.

“I knew a woman who grew a lemon and a grapefruit on her spine. She told me they were traumas, but that she did not judge them. The lemon was for her dad. The grapefruit was for being a dancer and yet yielding, in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, to the shaping of her body into a new form, a form loved by the figure drawing instructor, but not so much by the ballet master.”

The girl pauses. The philosopher studies his shoe and points his toe.

“She told me how the lemon could sometimes shrink to the size of a kumquat, but that the grapefruit was always there and always would be. Even the other organs had learned to make room for it.”

The philosopher had begun mentally threading a rosary’s worth of replies, but the girl, continuing, saves him.

“I remember how she moved through the room at a party we both went to. We knew no one, and yet every piece of her was easy and upright, effortless and free. I knew her, of course, and I knew the lemon and grapefruit were there, too, moving with her, living on her spine. But the strangers! The strangers smiled, oblivious. Can you imagine?”

“There’s the spine you have, the spine you envy, and the spine you pass by without notice,” says the philosopher.

“Maybe you have a spine and six inches are missing. Maybe your spine contracts into an anxious spiral at the thought of meeting strangers. Maybe your spine grows straight up from a crack in the concrete, then flowers, and explodes, sending seedlings all over the lawn. Maybe a lemon and a grapefruit hang from the tree of your spine while you dance through a room of smiling unfamiliar faces. All I can say is there’s the spine you have, the spine you envy, and the spine you pass by without notice.”

The girl was too busy parsing the distinction between “strangers” and “unfamiliar faces” to concur.


The crack in the concrete is the sidewalk’s spine, and yes, enviably, a flower grows from it. The flower is a dandelion that has yet to self-destruct. No one knows that, but everyone knows not to step on the crack. “Break your grandma’s back,” the girl explains. The philosopher firms his grip on the handlebar of her banana-seat bike, which is the color of a winter sky after a storm has passed. Almost, but not quite, blue. With effortless precision, he guides the bike forward. The girl lifts her feet from the pedals and turns her head to make bug eyes at her chauffeur. They amble down the street like this, a strange walking-rolling chimera. The peacock observes. They go past the crack in the sidewalk, past the dandelion, past the knowledge-hungry caterpillar. The girl peels a lemon and, for no reason but the joy of it, begins throwing pieces of peel side to side to side. The peacock shits a lace fan on the lawn and takes three steps to the right, then bobs its head to nibble a bit of cast-off fruit. The girl and the philosopher continue down the street as the road disintegrates behind them.