Poetry & Art Therapy Column, Sept/Oct/Nov 2004
By Kara L.C. Jones

A BodyWrites! Experience

Note from Kara:
In our BodyWrites! class, we offer many writing and expressive arts ideas to prompt more mindful experiences while creating your art. I recently had the amazing pleasure of doing an online exchange of this class with Ms. Pat Butler. On the second day of class, I sent a couple writing exercise ideas. The following is a copy of the exercise idea itself -- and then below that is Pat's wonderful response!! I'm humbled to be able to connect with talented and insightful writers like Pat through our Kota classes. And I'm so very grateful to you, Pat, that you were willing to share this with our readers! Many thanks to you. And for everyone reading this, enjoy it -- and then try your hand at writing your own version!! Have fun!! Explore!

Exercise 3, Day 2 of BodyWrites!
Make Sense of Age
(many thanks to Nancy Talley for her inspiration on the creation of this exercise!)

Experience your age through your senses? What do you look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like at birth; when you are 2 years old; 5 years old; 10; 20; 30; 40; 50; 60; 70; 80; 90; 100? Try making this an actually body exercise. What was it like to gestate? To be born out of a warm womb into the world of air and light and sensations? To pull yourself up the first time? To crawl? To walk with those tentative first steps? To walk confidently? To skip? To run? To dance? What does it feel like to walk when you are 90? How do things change in your body and attitude at your 50th birthday? Explore the past, present, and future with this.

Response to Exercise 3
by Pat Butler

I am conceived. What do I look like, a colon: two cells, swirling around a big page. I smell like amniotic fluid, I taste salty, I feel slippery. I am an egg, as slippery as an egg. I sound like the act of creation


I am born. I am still slippery, but not like a 3 min. timed egg. A little form and structure is giving shape to my yolk. I am green not yellow, I like green eggs and ham, Sam I AM! I smell like fluids of my mother, like those greeny black fluids. Green eggs and overfried ham, Sam I Am. I taste salty, I make a scream but it sounds like a squeek to you


I am 2

I am a wobbly duckling waddling along. Little chubby feet hit that floor and pick up particles of dust that I will stop and examine later. Little toes that jamb into everything and hurt mightily. Little toe jambs into door jambs. Little wispy hair flying away from her head with the smell of Johnson's baby shampoo. Little baby smell, smell of little, diapery smell, biscuit smell, the smell of biscuits and milk in her mouth. Congestion smell, little ones always have colds, completely vulnerable to all the
demonic microbes sent to infect them and them us and us to drag our slumpy carcasses off to work, so tired, so tired, felled by the tininess of tiniest tinyness. All this subterfuge but I am two years old and exploring and my thumbs and fingers and toes go where ever they want and find things mostly miniscule things that tickle and pink and smell and choke and taste--I taste like talcum powder. My mother has sprayed me. I feel like the smooth skin of an olive.

I sound like cartoon. I look like a commercial for diapers.


I am 5

I am in a red dress and smell like a flower, fresh and dainty.

I feel like a petal.

I sound like silence

I taste like a bit of salt on a good crust of bread.

I'm losing touch with myself


I am 10.

I look like a stick

I sound like a tree

I smell like cheap perfume for little girls, but it only lasts about 10 minutes before it dissipates.

I taste like a loaf of bread, no salt.

I feel like a rubber hose

I dance like a doll


I am 15 years old.

I look like a clown in a bright blue dress with yellow polka dots, but it is a pretty hip dress in a pretty funky cultural time. The end of culture as we knew it. The overthrow of all sorts of value, the total and utter rejection of the feminine. Look at Tippy Hedren in 'The Birds" and then tell me we haven't lost something.

I sound like a girl. Giggling way too much or whispering in closet phone call conversations with Diane Zully. This is how desperate I was for privacy.

I smell like an ad for Yardley, lavender toilet water. Delicate and scented, but again, not for long. But even when the bottle is empty I keep it a long time, because it is beautiful. Lovely long slinky green and lavendar stripes, trimmed in white. Lovely. I taste like a bit of Yardley too. I taste like a violet candy.

I feel like a rubbery sort of gold ball that you can hold in your hands and de-stress yourself with. I dance like a Courreges girl, white boots and flailing hair, and tortoise shell glasses that don't go with anything although they are the style.


I am 16.

I look the same, only older, more meatloafy, more brown colors coming into my wardrobe as I am increasingly distressed and depressed and no one notices but my mom who slams me with condamnation and rejection, horrified at my choice of colors, but never asking me why. Still pushing red down my throat, which I now wouldn't be caught dead in for all the tea in China. I smell like Ambush, which Anne Schmidt has introduced me too. And Taboo. We can't decide which one we like better, but she definitely has more class than me, because I didn't even know these things existed. Their bottles are a rubbery sort of plastic, funnel-y shaped and a beautiful coral color, at least for Ambush. I forget what Taboo came in. They are probably collector's bottles now. Most likely her mother got them for her, at Lord and Taylor's in Manhasset, where it was fashionable to go. Or Gertz. In Hicksville. Maybe any department store. I taste like what? A hot buttercream, coconut oil bathing beauty full of the taste of sun and salt and sand and Johnson's baby oil mixed with iodine with which we smeared ourselves and fried in that deadly beastly hot sun, whose heat I can only take the barest seconds of now. I sound like nothing as I am talking less and less, retreating into my browns and depression and coat closet with only Diane Zully to talk to.


I am 20, rigid with fear and panic, although you wouldn't hear those words from me. I am in college. I look like a lost bit of panic a cloth torn from its many Technicolor coat. A cloth fluttering in the winds of change. A cloth coughing and retching from many drunken nights on Boone's farm apple
wine. A cloth drowning itself in as sure a suicidal run as ever. I never suspected. I sought annihilation. I was a lemming running off the cliff with my classmates, I could no more resist them than I could live without them. If they rejected me there was no life left anywhere left to live on
the planet, so I must as well run with them even if we run off a cliff into the sea. I sound like a weasel or a mole or a terrified mouse running through a labyrinth, desperately seeking escape from the jaws of the predator clampling down around me. Agh! Running, screaming, fleeing, save me save me save me. Somebody come and get me, I'm falling catch me. I smell like Boone's Farm apple wine, I smell like death, I smell like sulphur. I smell like the fumes of marijuana going up all around me, though I cannot smoke it myself. I somehow know I will die if I start, and I need to wait till I can survive smoking it before I start. I need to know one person in this world loves me and that love will keep me tied to the earth, and then I can attempt suicide. Slow death.


I am ready at 25

I take my first puff, holding on to the ledge of your love. You are safe, though you are leading me in self-destruction. But I think I can find my way back. I know I can. I know some limits. Somehow I can. I can find my way back I do find my way back although perhaps it is only a grace I am receiving. But I remember in those breakneck runs in cars around mountain curves drunk as all skunk that I knew I would live and no matter how dogged the enemy's pursuit of me was you were not going to let me die like that before living. You were not going to let me die. The smoke hurts my lungs tremendously and tastes like nothing but feels like burning. I gag and spit but feel it standing in my nostrils and know it is entering my brain and all will be well soon. I feel the buzz. I am sleepy but flying in an airplane. I am sleeping in the Marinos bedroom, surrounded by Hummel figures and
plastic and wondering what I'm doing here. I taste the bitter tobacoo of it. I see Donna happy that I've joined her here in this place of death, cuz then it makes it safer for her too. Here I am for you, Donna, and I know you feel satisfaction but it is not good for either of us and I know that. I sound like a person who is completely disconnected from her heart. I taste like Oreo cookies, inhaled while high. I feel like a piece of cordorouy, the color I am wearing tonight, the dark green with the stain right at my chest. Astonishing wood button. A perfect fit a centimeter too small, esp. around the bust. But way cool otherwise. I still feel pretty rigid.

I am 25 years old and I smell like pot. I sound like disenfranchised youth. I am complaining and angry. I am a muddle and lost. I am able to divert everything into what's wrong at the job, unaware of what is to come because of what is wrong with me. But somewhere I am dimly aware-what is wrong? I don't know these motions of the soul. I experience them as deep movements in murky waters-things in the sea I'm afraid of. I taste like the oils of cannabis. Like the bitter waters of Marah. I am a bitter wormwood glass of absinthe. I feel taut and stricken, a thin bark on an old tree.


I am 27-28. I am slipping down the slippery slope and I don't know it. I know it. I slip. All it takes is a moment, a touch, and the match is lit. I look like a freefall, with long hair, a blue blazer with no buttons and a parrot pin in the lapel, khaki pants, a cranberry Indian shirt and a Siamese cat. I sound like the strike of the match. I smell like its sulphur, and taste like its acrid smoke, which combines with the Indian incense to make me nauseous. I feel like a spark ignited, like a life going up in flames.


I am 30 and sobered up. How did I get this old already and have nothing to show for it? I look like I'm waking up from a hangover. I feel old, too late, off the beat, like a failure. I have failed this part of my life. Though I have come to Christ-how is it that this is the first time I'm mentioning that? Should this scare me? I remember that beautiful house in Woodstorck? I think we went once, and it was a Jewish woman, lovely, refined, elegant in her elderliness. What would she say to me? I am moving away.I am leaving Long Island. I am moving to Woodstock. I am moving to Hartford. I sound like I've understood something, like a wind blowing, bringing in a new thing. I wake. I taste like outside. I smell like fresh air.


I am 40. I look like I've made it-a certain success, the same khaki pants. Able to dress but unable to pull my style together-still. I look Irish. I am wearing an Irish T-shirt to work, the construction site. I am not growing up yet. I'm yearning for a significant birthday experience and I'm getting frustrated, cuz it's not happening. I feel frustrated-till Saturday, when Donna pulls off the best possible surprise birthday party. I sound like a grump. I smell like Artistry products, and nothing worse, cuz I'm using Mennen deodorant, which I begrudgingly concede is the best, as Mom always said. I hate to agree with her on anything, but she's right, so it might as well be about deodorant. I taste like Bath-therapy, which I enjoy ever since Donna gave it to me umpteen birthdays ago. I think I was Donna's
cannibal compulsion-she couldn't get enough of me and she wanted to eat me alive. I couldn't set enough boundaries.


I am 50. I am filled with grief, but healing. The year anniversary of Dad's death.

I look terrible. "Boy have you aged!" Celine exclaimed tactfully, on seeing me shortly after my father's death. Boy did I feel that. Knowing how true it was. I sound like a tomb, like my father's absence, a heavy silence, except with my sister, with whom thankfully I can share every particle of what I'm experiencing in this loss. Thank God for her. I don't think I can ever socialize again. I smell like the acrid air we lived in, having converted the house into a hospice zone. I taste still the rarified air of the oxygen tanks, the cotton balls, the antiseptics and lotions and potions and anger and salt of endless tears. I feel like flinging all those spaghetti wires of medical machines right off the balcony. I feel again my excess weight, perhaps more than can be accounted for by the excess weight.


I am 52. All is well. I am living a life I love. Almost perfect, in spite of many things I would fill it with: a husband, family, a newer car, perhaps another Siamese kitty or a Jack Russell terrier or a pug. But there are flowers on my balcony with the wash and it is a summer day not to be beat. I have spent time with my friends today, I have sold a story, I am writing poems. I've found my vocation and I sound like the sound of yes. I look happy; and I'm smiling, and there is only the slightest trace of anger lines and pain lines, leftover from the car accident. No more khakis for me: but a gray miniskirt and lots more dresses, cuz I've come to terms with my wardrobe, my mother and my femininity. The laptop is hot on my bare knees. I smell like the perfume Catherine gave me two birthdays ago: the one in the orange bottle shaped like lips. I taste like an After Eight Mint, refreshing, like all the water I drink. I feel like an excited teenager, trapped in the car where her parents have put her, and the car is moving slower than she'd like. I am resigned to never having my 20 year old body back, but not so resigned that I won't continue to work this weight from taking full possession of me. I move a little slower, but more methodically more thoughtfully, not the frenzied activism of even 5 years ago, but the thoughtful lumber of a poet collecting poems from the air and butterflies flitting about on the breeze. I choose life, over and over and over again. Thank you, Lord of Life, and please keep it coursing through me.


I am 60.

I look like the sun has been baking me to a golden bun color. The smile wrinkles crease the bun just right. A few toasted sesame seeds complete my complexion. I sound like the ocean waves crashing down the beach, with great fidelity and dignity. They are comforting, and solid, those ephemeral things. I smell like their salty briny ring, which has plumped up my hair, which I'm letting go gray again, because I've earned it. And it's too much trying to keep it up anymore with the pool. Chlorine is about as bad as it can be for old hair. I'll go down to the ocean later. I taste like its salt too; it has infected every pore and is oozing back out, to the earth, from whence it came, and I wonder how many more years before I too am poured out, and I am ready. Not to die and end, but to die and begin the part of my life where I'm completely unhampered by death ever again.

I feel like a movie star; Katherine Hepburn in khaki pants! Yes, the khaki pants are back. Call it nostalgia, but I love the old comfortable bums. They fit me like a glove, both figuratively and literally. I love all these pockets. I put a belt on and don't care if my waist isn't as thin as Katherine's. In my mind it is.


I am 70.

I look like a faded page, or a piece of cabbage, except for my eyes which light it up and tell stories all by themselves. Sometimes I'm not aware of it, but that's what people tell me. When Irish eyes are smiling they tell me. I sound like a butterfly gargled, as Yoko Ono said somewhere back in the 60's, no? All happy little laughters fluttering up and trickling down. I smell like the spicy vanilla crème my niece gave me; never did like vanilla, but the spices make it tolerable, and I always did love my niece. So I taste like this spicy vanilla too, and smell my arms repeatedly. Maybe I do like vanilla. I can't remember anymore. I feel like a woman who has lost the whole world, but gained her soul. I miss my friends and my brothers and my parents. I'm so glad my sister is still with me and we can still make each other laugh till no sound comes out. She is my world now, and her family. And she is my light.


I am 80.

I look like a real cabbage patch doll now, fragile and sweet (if they only knew) and wrinkly but just right, and a faint tinge of green if I don't get outside enough, which I never seem to anymore. I sound like a stalled car, farting now and then, and am glad no one's around to hear it. I don't think I have that old lady smell yet, but I'll call my sister later and have her make sure. I taste like that rain, falling into my beloved ocean. We're all coming to you, ocean! Just wait and keep waving! I feel like I'm waiting with my suitcases and ticket for the boat to come, and it can't come fast enough, cuz I can't wait for vacation.

About the Author
Pat Butler lives and works in northern France, which has required lots of loss ( family and friends, familiarity and language) to gain the richness of living in a foreign culture. A native New Yorker, Pat began writing as a child. Although single, Pat's extended family—French and American—provide an endless source for stories and poems.


A Comprehensive Archive

A few readers have written to say it's difficult to locate previous issues of this column, so below is a comprehensive archive. Please note that each link here will pop open a new window containing the Poetry Therapy column named:

Discovering Poetry Therapy

Pt I: Defining Poetry Therapy *and* Pt II: Coping with the Holidays

The Notion of "Healing"

National Poetry Awareness Month - 2003

At the MISS Conference: poetry and kids

So you want to be certified?

Let go, Let go

Outside, Inside

Can't you get over it?

Layers & Living - 9/11


Be Still

Reviewing "Poetic Medicine"

Day of the Dead

Letting Expression Come

Forgotten Familiar

Empty Chairs, Tiny Stockings


Word Play Leads to Music

Reaction Writing

Giving Voice During Grief - winter holiday oriented

Shifting Perspective

Open Ended Conversation

About the Author
Kara is an artist of many disciplines. Trained as a poet and bookmaker, she has also been known to act, bellydance, and do henna body arts. She teaches and performs through faires, festivals, local art centers, artists in the schools programs, KotaPress and independently. To find out more, see:


Loss  | Vashon | Services | Art | Poetry | Store | Contact

© 1999 KotaPress All rights reserved.  ISSN 1534-1410 www.KotaPress.com
Please direct comments regarding this web site to webmaster@KotaPress.com