Sarah Galvin on "The Song About Being a Person"
THE SONG ABOUT BEING A PERSON
A doctor instructed me to do a stretch that involves flattening a line of ants with my ass. She was very specific—"Not spiders or beetles," she insisted. She almost certainly prescribed the stretch because she is sexually excited by ants. Under her white coat she was probably covered in them. I don't think less of her as a doctor because of this, I relate to her more as a person. In fact it reminds me of the chorus from that Bob Dylan song about being a person, that goes, "It would bring me to orgasm if my cock were covered in ants."
On "The Song About Being a Person"
This was the first poem I wrote after finishing UW's MFA program. My friend Cody Walker says you learn in two years of grad school what you'd otherwise learn in 20, and I agree. However, I'd been writing with a specific group of horrifyingly smart and talented people in mind for two years, and this was the first thing I'd written in a while that was just to please myself. That's where all poetry should come from—the discovery of treasure and desire to share it. I like the idea that it's like finding a fruit or seed you've never seen and trying to sketch the tree it came from.
The seed here was a real experience I had in physical therapy. I went because one of my legs is shorter than the other—the ass-stretch was for my hip flexors. The description of how to do the stretch, which is verbatim, was the funniest thing a doctor has ever said to me. I kept wondering how and why she chose bugs, particularly squishing a variety of bugs, as a way to instruct me, and the scenario in this poem was what I imagined. I related to her more as a person because we think of medical professionals almost as being automated—we have to in order to trust them digging around in our bodies—and there was something about that statement in that context that made me recognize the humanity of the physical therapist.
I arrived at the Bob Dylan line because I was struck by the absurdity of the things that "define humanity" and I saw an opportunity to highlight that by playing against expectations. I assume when Bob Dylan is mentioned that a poem is about to go in a particular tonal direction, so I went the opposite. The vagueness of the hypothetical Dylan song's title followed by the really weird and specific last line emphasizes the contrast between the earnest, noble things that we like to say define humanity and the bizarre, surreal, chaotic things that actually do. Oddly, humans are much more interesting than we want to believe—we would like to exclusively be a Bob Dylan song, but more often we're masturbating doctors covered in ants.