Hoop — Harriet Sandilands

Alfed Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe – Hands and Thimble, 1919, Alfed Stieglitz Collection, Art Institute of Chicago.


It can’t be uncommon to fall in love with someone in your somatic therapy group. It must happen all the time. It’s all that emotional stripping down and touching you do. Also, you are primed in this therapy group to think that there is no such thing as a coincidence. If the walls of the group therapy space could speak, they would be whispering everything happens for a reason through every peeling pore.

During the first session, you do an activity where you walk around the room, slowly paying attention to your feet. You are unfazed. You have done your fair share of making contact with the ground, synchronizing your breath and your body, puffing out your belly with each inhalation. You would never even consider wearing jeans to such a group; lycra became your friend long ago. You once tried on a pair of pregnancy trousers just because that great swath of lycra stitched to the top of the waistline looked so forgiving and kind.

Next, you are to become aware of the other people in the room. The guidance contains words like open, invite and field. You look at each other sheepishly, sometimes stifling a giggle. You do this for the benefit of the others, not because there is anything especially funny about this situation. When you cross this person on the floor again, what catches your eye is the tiny silver ring in his right ear.

You are reminded of a boy in the year below you at school who had a little hoop in his right ear. When he turned sixteen, his parents threw him a “coming out party”, so committed were they to just letting him be who he was. You picture him now reclined in a field of wildflowers, a rugged academic type lying next to him, propped up on one elbow, reading Baudelaire. Or sitting by an open fire, with copies of The New Yorker piled up on a side table stamped with the crescent moons of coffee cups, tossing crossword clues at each other like minor flirtations.  

The next invitation to the group – therapists never give instructions; they issue invitations –  is to allow yourself to touch whichever part of the other’s body you feel most drawn to. Some people in the group tense slightly; there is a stiffness to this new way of walking. People hold layers of suspicion in their bodies like mille-feuille, except for you that is; you are the kind of person who loves to be touched. On the metro, you sometimes stand where people need to brush past you, sometimes remaining completely still while the inevitable contact is made. Inertia itself can be an act of erotic power. A hip bone or the soft part of an arm might press itself against you on a violent turn of the train. Then the apologetic look in someone’s eyes as they inadvertently lean into you, their body momentarily glued to yours.  

So this part of the exercise does not faze you either. 

There is an unspoken rule in a therapy group that you are not going to go out for a beer afterwards. It’s the same way that no-one actually tells you that you shouldn’t have sex with someone you just met on the third day of a meditation retreat, but you still know it isn’t a very good idea. And, in a way, this is a relief for you; over a beer, you would feel exposed.

Here high up, in this wooden-floored room, only the sky can see, and the odd purring pigeon that lands on the window frame. The light pours in and illuminates your person who dips his eyes gently to the ground – inertia itself can be an act of erotic power.

You brush past him, your shoulders making slight contact, as if you were a pair of cats crossing in a corridor. You notice again the little silver ring in his ear and he stops right in front of you, like a child presenting a wound to be dressed. His stillness is what penetrates you. His ear is glowing, backlit by the sun so that each tiny vein throbs red through the vellum skin. 

You reach out a hand and slip your smallest finger through the tiny hoop in his ear, let it rest there for a moment before turning it slightly inside the ring so that the edge of your finger also brushes the outer lip of his ear. Then you pull it out, slowly and gently. He pauses a moment longer, his eyes still somewhere in the distance, sighs one of those sighs that sounds like it might have been a word, and walks away, leaving a tiny trail of sound behind him.

Harriet is a writer and art therapist living in the mountains outside of Barcelona. She writes poetry and prose which has appeared in Country Music, Libro Rojo, epoema, Barcelona InkHAU and Talking About Strawberries All Of The Time

She co-edits the annual Barcelona literary journal Parentheses, where her work has also appeared. Harriet’s interactive poetry experience The Poetry Machine has been showcased at art and literature festivals around Europe and has produced its own volume of poetry: Jorge’s Machinations. Harriet is currently editing a collection of poetry soon to be published by Palabrosa

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