Our booty, ourselves

When you speak, let your whole body stand as collateral, I said. When you sing, make the hearts of all that hear keep time like furious tambourines. The dance and the lyrics should rise together like a cobra from the snake charmer’s basket, like Miriam on the banks of the sea, I said.

Some stayed in their seats and swayed, others filed into the aisles and shook their fit or flabby hindquarters with what passed for wild abandon. It’s possible to be simultaneously fit and fat, I thought, looking with my shopkeeper’s eye. But what I love most is the idea of ass as self, as faithful or recalcitrant beast of burden for our five shameless senses. Ego? Id? Libido? I dunno. We all gots donkey ears, ya know? Like King Midas. Everything we touch turns tragically to gold – or perhaps to compost, if we’re lucky.

Shake it, don’t break it. My jelly, my roll, my pigmeat mama. Baby got back. Haunch. Rump. Booty! How this region extends its merry dominion! The waist or navel may well contain the body’s center of gravity, but the butt – which is pure superfluity, really – seems more essential. Waists can go to waste, after all, and in iconography, at least, the navel too can disappear: our archetypal ancestors made do without them. Humanity’s subsequent loss of innocence seems somehow linked to our acquisition of navels, for the umbilicus is a bit of a doppelganger. It must be given its own, secret burial as soon after birth as possible, and thereafter (we suspect) grows gradually younger, even as its former owner grows long in tooth.

But the ass, ah! The ass remains more or less innocent: not in the sense of naive lack of experience, of course, but in remaining immune to all criminal charges. Whatever we think of a scoundrel, the horse he rode in on is almost invariably spared. I realize some men prefer those other superfluities, the breasts, as the main recipients of their devotion. But I can’t help thinking they’re just little boys who never grew up. The breast man is an idolater, a mere magician. He knows his tender acts of worship can compel his beloved to answer his prayers. Only the ass-kisser can enjoy the fully abject position of a true believer.

Everything I need to know I learned from studying buttocks. Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists take note: your prostrations will never be complete as long as you have a single ounce of fat attached to the extremity of your torso. Even as we touch our foreheads to the ground, even as we press our ears to the earth to hear whatever the reeds might be whispering, our recalcitrant rumps stand upright, as proud and humorous as the humps of camels. If the heart is the seat of the soul, the seat is the heart of the body – or better, its crossroads. The rhyming halves of the ass suggest the possibilities of completion, of harmony, of pleroma. We are our own twins – we can own such luck! Our natural wealth should suffice us: this booty goes wherever we do, and no will and testament can bequeath it to another. We may well covet our neighbor’s wife’s ass, we might even get a piece of it, as they say, but ultimately it remains her own – though she may, of course, take out insurance on it, as the high priestess of Bootianity, Jennifer Lopez, is reputed to have done.

So swing low, sweet chariot! Free your ass, and your mind will follow. Your ass may be grass in the long run, but watch the way the tall grass moves in the wind and tell me that’s a bad thing! One could do a lot worse, I’m thinking, than to shake and sway with such hushed fluidity, such unselfconscious grace.

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