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Body and Soul

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They grow up together
but they aren't even fraternal

twins, they quarrel a lot
about where to go and what

to do, the body complains
about having to carry

the soul everywhere as if
it were some helpless cripple,

and the soul snipes that it can go
places the body never dreamed of,

then they quarrel over which one of them
does the dreaming, but the truth is,

they can't live without each other and
they both know it, anima, animosity,

the diaphragm pumps like a bellows
and the soul pulls out all the stops—

sings at the top of its lungs, laughs
at its little jokes, it would like

to think it has the upper hand
and can leave whenever it wants—

but only as long as it knows
the door will be unlocked

when it sneaks back home before
the sun comes up, and when the body

says where have you been, the soul
says, with a smirk, I was at the end

of my tether, and it was, like a diver
on the ocean floor or an astronaut

admiring the view from outside
the mother ship, and like them

it would be lost without its air
supply and protective clothing,

the body knows that and begins
to hum, I get along without you

very well, and the soul says, Listen
to that, you can't sing worth a lick

without me, they'll go on bickering
like this until death do them part—

and then, even if the soul seems to float
above the body for a moment,

like a flame above a candle, pinch
the wick and it disappears.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the July 2002 issue of Poetry magazine

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Body and Soul

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  • Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sharon Bryan earned a BA in philosophy from the University of Utah, an MA in anthropology from Cornell University, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is the author of the poetry collections Salt Air (1983), Objects of Affection (1987), Flying Blind (1996), and Sharp Stars (2009), which won the Isabella Stewart Gardner Poetry Award.
     
    Bryan’s work as an editor includes Where We Stand: Women Poets on the Literary Tradition (1994) and Planet on the Table: Poets on the Reading Life (2003), which she co-edited with William Olsen. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut and Dartmouth College, and her awards include two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry. She has been a poet-in-residence at The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. 

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