What the Body Remembers

September 1992 My suitcase filled with books was too heavy to lift. From the top of the three narrow train steps in the Stockholm station, I pushed the bag gently, imagined it would land lightly and upright. The weight of the suitcase threw me to the ground, my body twisting, my head hitting the concrete. My leg broke in nine places.  

I told the astrologer about the accident. “It’s rare,” she said, “but you have no Earth in your chart. You’re not grounded in your body. As if you were Icara, you thought you could fly. To be safer in the world, foster a connection to the earth.”  

Her final piece of advice: “Do Tai Chi.”  

The astrologer’s comments were a revelation. I had always felt oddly disembodied, my mind floating free.     


On a flat meadow area, we weave like a chorus through the 108 moves of the Tai Chi set. An informal group of five to thirty meets three times a week in High Park, an oasis in Toronto with a pond and old gnarled oaks and ice skating and in the spring, cherry trees in bloom. I try to keep my eye on Karen who moves with grace, effortlessly, as if her body remembers.  

Easily distracted by passing thoughts, and rhyming words, and clouds drifting across the sky, I often lose track of my body. Even the lyrical names of the steps – Stork Cools Wings, Wave Hands like Clouds, Grasp Bird’s Tail, Part Wild Horse's Mane – can throw me off. I find myself standing still as others maneuver around me.  

If I hum, sometimes my body moves without me: Creep Low Like Snake, Step Up to Seven Stars, Carry Tiger to Mountain. My body remembers more than I do.


On a crisp September day, a few years after the accident, I was on a Swedish train again, returning from Göteborg. I occasionally lifted my eyes from my book to appreciate the modest ochre and red houses with peaked tiled roofs, and the green fields so like Canada.

Twenty miles or so outside of Stockholm, I was overcome with fear and nausea, my still-cranky knee suddenly testy. I shut my eyes and took some deep breathes. I heard my body whispering. Listen. Listen. A memory of the train entering the station erupted in my mind: vivid and unnerving. I realized I was arriving in Stockholm on the same train, into the same station, two years to the day of my accident. A strange twist of circumstances, but my body remembered.

January 2018 We come to the first of the thirteen crossings of the creek. The water is unusually high. The Murray Canyon Trail in Palm Springs winds through the modest grandeur of the desert before reaching this lush oasis.

“Let your body guide you,” my partner Edith says. Of course, she’s like a mountain goat. Even if she doesn’t have split hooves, she’s agile and confident.

I hesitate, weak knee and wonky balance hovering in my mind. Crossing safely depends on a jutting stone, a rotting log or a leap. Tentatively I put one foot on a stone. I hesitate.

“Let your body guide you,” she reiterates. “As soon as you start thinking, you’re done.”

A few times, I don’t think, and cross the creek with ease. As if I were someone else. I hear her breathing and catch a whiff of mint tea on her breathe. I smile. I feel her/my hand reach out to touch the rough bark of mesquite tree on the path.

Linda Briskin is a writer and fine art photographer (Toronto and California). Her CNF bends genres, makes quirky connections and highlights social justice themes – quietly. "Frozen Air" was published in Barren (2020); "Hubris" is forthcoming in Canary. As a photographer, she is intrigued by the permeability between the remembered and the imagined, and the ambiguities in what we choose to see. Recently, her photographs were published in The Hopper, Flare Journal, Alluvian and Canadian Camera. https://www.lindabriskinphotography.com/

You can see more of her work in 9.4 and 9.4

Previous | Next