#eye #eye

This essay was originally published in Soft Stir.

vestiges of a body: affect of touch

elijah innes


I remember my Great Aunt at my first Holy Communion wished not to blow out my candle. She licked her fingers and pressed on the wick. Her skin crackled and fell to the ground. Sooted fingers shedding. I would always wonder how it would feel.

Most evenings, I will light candles around my room. They sit in silver and melt down. It became a sort of tradition: to see the warm glow of an evening shape upon the walls and dance side to side. Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.1 Shadowed across in soft winds.

I put my hand over the flame.

A gentle hole becomes itself inside my palm, burning hot and tight. My mind crawls. Thinking my body, I am thinking in my body, as my body, through my body, of my body, about my body, and I’m oriented around my body. I’m beside myself. 2

Not in my body at all, but feeling rather beside myself, I watch from some other angle, I watch my hand tickle and burn. Becoming a bright sting, one I cannot tolerate, I pull my hand away. All the dancing, all the soft laughter that crawled beneath sheets and behind open windows comes back to me now.

Living alone, I had missed the gentle hum of another body in a nearby room. Their body radiating at blood warmth, livening the night. Sometimes too, I would be lucky and feel hands enclosed in mine. That hot sweat skin warming my palm.

It was a softer reminder this way.


If I think of my body, I think of it in anticipation of being touched, that heavy-boned feeling, caught heavy and aching. I think of my body as experiential, remembering and activating its presence and preoccupation. Somehow conjured, but continually and consciously with and of the world. The world is entirely on the inside, and I am entirely outside of myself.3

I remember waiting to be touched. My skin reached out, small hairs rising like a cake, trying to be known. I could feel my skin outside of animate touch, its weight and bristles. The wind caught it for a moment, chilling the soft surface of tiny hairs, outlining my body. My cheeks were cold, but ran huddled and hot. My body outwardly anticipating.

I held my phone and saw their name on the screen.
A vibration –

2: You ready?

My finger moves across the screen. I trace and track, I am the surfaced by its surface. It finds my face and lets me enter.

I remember how we used to flirt, the causal comments on photos, the blue-light romance. I sat. My legs crafted old shapes in my lap, nervous and tangled. My heart ran around the room and held its breath. Palely and flamily. 4

1: wait, give me a moment —

The video call finally caught signal,

My breath had not yet caught me.

We surfaced. Fixed eyes, now small breaths, somehow together and gorgeous. We chatted awkwardly and found our comfort, cocooning within words and small sips of wine. I leant my phone against the wall and sat an arm’s reach away. I would watch the split of the screen, our faces hovering above each other, together in closeness. The space tunnelled into small visions (of myself, of us), focused eyes. The force of us. Apart in proximity.

Somehow, this closeness edges at me. Their arms are no longer across borders, but holding my waist nauseous, nuzzling their chin into my neck. It was not a hallucination or false. For I have become a chimera, embedded with transintimacies. It is the love of cyborg love. It is the love that grows because I survey my love through screens; I can screen myself and project myself, and bask in the glow of the screened image of my love.5 My body intermediates and finds touch without tactile connection. The haptics of a small love expands the borders of this strange embodiment. I am winding, caught and about to be, debordering and rebordering, overlapping to the other side of the body.6 Emotionally rigged and stationed to fall back to feeling as hands feel, not as minds wander.

2: I wish I could touch you

1: You are touching me, you see... I can feel my body occurred by yours.

My mouth did not close, it was caught, pulling back my jaw into a beam. Our eyes did not unlock, entranced and empathetic. Sometimes edging on soft laughter, at the absurdity. Just looking, staring, waiting, present. We stayed like this for quite some time.

1: I feel the same.

2: I feel like we’ve met before and somehow my body misses you.

[after some time, and some words, and with hesitation, the call ends.]

I caved and fostered myself the way into bed. The sheets held at me, I tugged at the hands of it and thought of them as theirs.

1: I miss them already.


As bodies, we seek confluence. Astrida Neimanis suggests that bodies flow into one another in life-giving ways, but also in unwelcome, or unstoppable, incursions. I guess, while I have owed many legacies, my body becoming implicated by other bodies (leaky, permeable and intercorporeal) in terms of both their matters and meanings, these too have become my undoing.7

For some time, I would always wonder what someone meant by feeling out-of-body, when I felt completely embodied by joyed aches, and lowly now, stiffened fingers. Somehow, looking mirrored, feeling split, emotions are just bodies overlapping with and inhabiting a spectacle.8 Inhabiting all the high beams: reeling, savage, headlong, insatiable.9 Tossing between, as headlights do, exposing and trying to forget.

I remember my first love. Hot words and hot hands had pinned me to the floor. His weight cornering me into cold tiles. My body looped itself flat between hands and heartache. Slowed now. Bruising into that other side of my body, the emotional cavity. My teeth were buried into ceramic, I tried with all my strength, I now, I stretch my bones out on the floor.10

I believed all that he said. I would have always giggled when someone would throw someone’s clothes at them from an apartment building, down to the curb-side in a pathetic rage.

Raging and burning hot.

He tried to catch my shirt with flames and caught instead my head, shoulders, knees with blows.

In my mind, I felt the clothes settling slow and lifeless onto the street. Falling as dandelions do. I had cast him out, blowing out a flame and making a wish:

1: For the next year, make my body become spring.

1 Sylvia Plath, ‘Poppies in October,’ in Ariel (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), 77.
2 Christina Crosby, A Body, Undone: Living on after Great Pain (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 198.

3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A Landes (London: Routledge, 2012), 430.
4 Sylvia Plath, ‘Poppies in October,’ in Ariel (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), 21.

5 Tavi Meraud, ‘Iridescence, Intimacies,’ in E-Flux Journal #61 (January 2015). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/61/60995/iridescence.
6 Sue L Cataldi, Emotion, Depth and Flesh, A Study of Sensitive Space: Reflections on Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Embodiment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 61–116.

7 Astrida Neimanis, ‘How to think (about) a body of water: Posthuman phenomenology between Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze,’ in Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 43.
8 Sue L Cataldi, ‘Introduction,’ in Emotion, Depth and Flesh, A Study of Sensitive Space: Reflections on Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Embodiment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 4.
9 Louise Glück, ‘Foreword,’ in Crush (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2005), 1.
10 Angel Olsen, ‘Whole New Mess,’ recorded October 2018, track one on Whole New Mess, Jagjaguwar Records, 2020, Spotify.