The Anatomy of Love

The Integumentary System

The integumentary system is composed of the integument (the skin) and its derivatives, including the hairs, sweat glands, and oil glands. As the largest body organ, the skin provides protection to the body and performs other functions, . . . [including] excretion, sensation, and immunity to disease.

Heading toward each other on strangers’ discrete trajectories, we collide without touching, the gleams of our gazes singling us out for each other in the anonymous crowd. Our paths diverge – our ephemeral conjunction is already fading into oblivion. But three steps later, we both turn our heads to look – our searching gazes click, desire hooking into desire almost audibly. I stop, turn around, start following you. You look back from time to time as we go deeper into the maze (suddenly the crowded plaza has become a labyrinth for two). Every time you look back, your eyes unwind more of their magic thread. Mesmerized, a charmed snake, I follow this luminous filament. Our spontaneous dance – the choreography of enthrallment – unfolds like an immemorial ritual. Slowing down, you walk off the pavement, sit on a grassy plot and take an apple from your pocket, all the while withholding your saving gaze from me standing just an apple’s throw away – I’m adrift; I’ve lost my thread. But with a flash of your reviving glance, I’m back on track again.

The first word shatters the Gorgonspell – our silent weaving of look and counterlook into a shimmering, mirroring fantasy is broken. Our eyes’ invisible tendrils, twining gaze to gaze, snap – the untimely exchange of words (in the beginning the first words are always an outrage) has turned us back into wary strangers.

The Circulatory System

The circulatory system of the human body is actually two systems: a pulmonary circulation extending from the heart to the lungs and back to the heart; and a systemic circulation, extending from the heart to all other parts of the body then back to the heart.

It was all over before it could even start. An unexpected email reignites my dormant desire. To have two beginnings – sublime gratuitousness! If asked to choose a moment in love’s rise and fall that I would relive eternally in some amorous heaven, I would pick the beginning with its promise of indefinite satisfactions; the beginning when everything is liquid, polymorphous – before desire has settled into too-familiar pleasures and sufferings, before the delights of anticipation have turned into the tortures of perpetual deferment; the beginning when the other’s strangeness draws one thrillingly to the brink of an unknown life. Your improbably overture has made me feel desirable again; in other words, I exist again. For in those intervals when you don’t want me, I all but vanish, impotent to do anything but wait facelessly for you to desire me back into being.

The Digestive System

The function of the digestive system is to break down large food particles into smaller ones that can pass across the membranes of cells during absorption. Two main groups of organs make up the digestive system. The first group are the organs of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract . . . This is a tube extending from mouth to anus and opened to the exterior at each end. The second group are accessory structures such as the teeth, tongue, and glands lining the GI tract. They aid the mechanical and chemical breakdown of foods.

Whenever my twittering tongue touches your ear, you become a growling unheard-of creature. (Astonished biologists will have to revise their taxonomies, bestiaries will require appendices.) I want to hear your unearthly cries again, those calls from a strange country whose eerie resonances transport me. Carrying you along in my mouth, I voyage to invisible cities where streets change their places every time your uncanny throat’s bell rings.

The Respiratory System

The respiratory system consists of passageways that filter incoming air and carry it into the lungs. Here in the microscopic air sacs, exchanges take place between the external atmospheric air and the internal body environment.

You only fall in love with phantoms. Should I become a ghost for you?

The Excretory System

Excretion involves the elimination of the waste products of cellular metabolism. It also encompasses the removal of surplus materials from the body tissues, and it includes regulation of the water and salt content of the body.

You haven’t asked me why I’m leaving, but I have to tell myself the reasons why:
You want too much from me.
You want too little from me.
You kiss like a corpse.
I’m tired of making love to my own echo.
It doesn’t make me suffer anymore to imagine the time when you won’t make me suffer anymore.
Talking to you is like eating broken glass.
Mired in the miasma of my frustrated desire, I stink – people can smell my noxious anguish from miles away. Nobody wants to come within sniffing distance of me – least of all you.
Neither of us draws pleasure from my suffering anymore.
Since you never do anything, I’ve been forced to play both parts in this farce of love. Why did it take me so long to realize you’re totally dispensable? I can play this game without you.

Quotations (italicized sections) are from the Anatomy Coloring Workbook by I. Edward Alcamo, Random House, 1997.

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