Monday, January 4, 2010

A Feather on the Breath of God

When we read we often read ourselves, that is, we bring ourselves to the book, so every reading is different. The first time I read Sigrid Nunez's memoir-like novel, A Feather on the Breath of God, it was 2004--my friend Roger had sent it to me in Florida--and I was thinking more about my own family, and interested in her portrayal of the mother character, a German who marries a man who is Chinese and Panamanian. The portrait is uncanny, as if the daughter-narrator were literally conjuring up her mother: Her "eyes were enhanced by shapely brows that made me think of angels' wings. Their arch gave her face an expression of skeptical wonder. When she was displeased her brows went awry; the arch fell; the world came tumbling down on me."

Five years later, aware of my aging body, I am more interested in the sections about ballet, especially this one:

I have spoken about the pain of dancing. Now let me say something about the pain of not dancing. You stop dancing and your body tightens. You feel like a piece of clothing that has shrunk in the wash. A sensation worse than any muscle ache. You are trapped in a body that is too small for you; you want to claw your way out.

I've stolen a part of this passage for a poem. Luckily, most days, I can walk myself out of this body that seems too small for me, walk until I heat up, and then stretch and walk some more.

I've written about only a few aspects of this sensitive novel that I love. Nunez's prose is lyrically tempered: "Bright sun, ancient stones, the endless noon of the streets and the eternal dusk of the churches." I'll steal that too.


  1. The pain of not dancing for a dancer sounds to me to be as bad as the pain of not writing for a writer, though the pain might manifest in different bodily ways.

    Nunez writes powerfully, as do you here, about an experience that I can only imagine and yet the idea of a body that feels tight like a piece of clothing that has shrunk in the wash is compelling, maybe akin to being in a strait jacket.

    I take it you were once a dancer, Mim. You know about the pain, not simply metaphorically but as in your bones and sinews. And in the tiny snapshot of your on your profile, you look like a dancer, a graceful and elegant dancer.

    Thank you for a beautiful post.

  2. now, Mim, if there's not too much description in this book, I'll read it. I'm going to order it at the library today.... thank you for that...
    you are such a good walker....

  3. I wasn't a dancer, Elizabeth, but I did Yoga for many years, and felt I was weightless. You and Melissa might like Nunez's work.

    Yours for moving,

  4. As I enjoy your posts, I've tagged you in a meme. Hope you can do it, you offer 10 things about yourself, then tag 7 others!



  5. Thank you, Lewis, for the tag. I haven't yet learned how to embed a live link in my blog; I'm only occasionally wise
    Your friend in Blog Land,