Kevin Heslop reads ‘The Body Artist’

Kevin Heslop is a poet and actor from London, Ontario. He is the author of con/tig/u/us (Blasted Tree, 2018), there is no minor violence just as there is no negligible cough during an aria (Frog Hollow, 2019), and the forthcoming full-length collection the correct fury of your why is a mountain (Gordon Hill, 2021).


The Body Artist

Which was when we met the guy who said he was a “body artist”––

do you remember? “Artista del corpo.” That he considered his body

which he built methodically from moment to moment, the canvas––

he used a word which more closely translates as the arena––of his work. 

Which I thought was horseshit. The bundle of endorsements he received

from a supplement manufacturer in Milan allowed him to eat very well

and work out twice a day, I decided, and add to an indisputable physique

the convenient artist imprimatur in his involved self-advertisement 

to the opposite sex. He was beautiful, but the proportions of his art

had been arranged in advance; and this freed him, I felt, from producing 

a statement of aesthetics, which was what artists are obligated to do.

I was suspicious and told you so when we finally got away for lunch

on the balcony overlooking the square in Lamezia––“I prefer statues

which don’t draw breath,” I had said––and you identified his artistry

of the body, of the breath, of the will to self-actualize the instrument 

with which we perform the kinetic aria of our lives, as worthy 

of reconsideration as an almost religious vocation. I admitted I thought

he was gorgeous too, and you sneered, asking what the Buddhist monks

were doing when they sounded the bell to initiate morning prayer 

and sat down in full lotus to balance their limbs in such a way as to focus––

the breath, the heartbeat––on unrippling the pond of consciousness. 

“Consciousness?” I asked. “No restriction, then, on who can be an artist?

Shouldn’t time and evolution have been judicious in their liberation 

of individual bodies to self-select as artists simply for being what they are?”

“But how many people have you heard claim body artistry?” you asked, 

forcing cessation. Because after all we were sitting on a balcony in Italy 

overlooking the smoked limestone of an ancient square dotted with white

parasols shading carts of produce brought to the square before sunrise. 

“Look at the clouds just being,” you said. “Look at the blue of the sea

in its pact with the horizon and the sky where tufts of cloud suspend––

taking in the view––disinterested in debate about the legitimacy of any one 

form of artistry. Look at them being what they are without this endless 

accordion of thought or justification.” “You are a cloud,” I told you 

adoringly. “I am and you are too,” you said, which was when the plate 

of steamed mussels in the white wine brio arrived on a brief sonata 

of Italian spoken by the waiter whom I didn’t understand precisely––

your Italian that summer surpassed mine––and we had both said Grazi 

and I leaned back into my Campari and spread, on a wafer of baguette, 

the olive oil-doused bruschetta I was crazy about and would later fail 

to replicate––“It was the tomatoes,” you would say––and I thought 

of the body artist, beginning to forgive him. Thinking that, perhaps,

bidden as our bodies are into this forceful ballet of chance and suffering, 

perhaps this cultivation of one’s own vessel, sole coil, mobile prison, 

et cetera was in fact an act of resistance to the unrequested life 

through which we hasten––as Nabokov would have it––at some 

forty-five hundred heartbeats per hour towards the grave. Why not, 

I thought to myself, let the sculpting of each moment accrete into 

the spiraled aspiration of the body? Why not––I was thinking 

of the controlled motion of the interpretive dancer I had admired 

back home––let the body remind us that the world consists of atoms 

and emptiness and we are the little parts of it with agency? You had seen, 

then, my face detach from itself and you said, smiling your smile, 

lifting an imperfect mussel out of its steam-canted shell with a small 

bifurcated fork catching the summer sun, “You’re doing it again.”

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