Approaching Mystery: Timekeeping

Approaching Mystery: Timekeeping July 20, 2017
Some of the most interesting writing happening today exists in the liminal space between genres—micro-memoir, prose poem, lyrical essay. Poet and essayist Joanna Penn Cooper recently taught an online course based on the potential these “in-between” genres have to explore mystery–one of our favorite topics at Sick Pilgrim. The course was called “Approaching Mystery: Writing Vignettes about Mystery and the Unexplained,” and we liked the idea so much that we’ve partnered with Joanna to offer a new feature on Sick Pilgrim in which we post vignettes that dwell on the mystery of the everyday, that hang in an unresolved (and unresolvable) space of wonder and unknowability. Today we’re introducing the series with a vignette by Carla Myers, generated in the pilot course Joanna and her students just completed. Joanna will be offering the “Approaching Mystery” online course again in the fall. Stay tuned to Sick Pilgrim for more information, and be sure to follow Joanna’s website,

Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault’s Pendulum


My plastic surgeon used the word pendulous today and I almost vomited in my mouth. Pendulous seems to be the go-to word when describing breasts that have the temerity to present themselves as a body part past their date of expiration. Pendulous. Pen-du-lous. Even saying the word drops my voice into a low manly register. Descend from the sunshine of the feminine and pretty into where the dark things are hidden.

He also used pendulous’ antonym, perky. We all know perky breasts are young, but they are also cheerful, spunky–but in reality, quite compliant- have a British accent, and are always the heroine in a predictable costume drama. They have taut smiles but look beautiful when entertaining the gentlemen by playing the piano-forte.

The idea of a pendulous breast as an actual timepiece is pretty accurate though. They’re a grandmother clock; breasts, swinging back and forth, back and forth as a woman moves through life, measuring time using her sagging body. Mine don’t make a creaky, tick-tock sound, but they have been malfunctioning and do need to be replaced. But apparently not replaced with a copy of the loud-mouthed, ranting grannies who live there now. Instead, their less disagreeable granddaughters are moving in. I’m sure they will be happy to fetch everyone tea.

When I was a flat-chested child, my grandmother and I would often walk to the Franklin Institute. It’s an old science museum in Philadelphia. When you walk up the almost two-hundred-year-old white marble stairs to the entrance, you can see the semi-circle smile marks left by the millions of feet before you.

I wanted to see the same two things each time we went. As soon as I got in the building, I would toss my sweater, coat, boots and backpack, on my grandmother as she effortlessly balanced her own her purse, shopping bag, coat and hat. Then, I would immediately dart off to the giant heart. It was made of red plaster and painted with bulging blue and purple veins. It was as big as a house and made a constant rumbling thump-thump sound. I would get in line with the other children, pretend to be a red blood cell, run along arteries, and jump through ventricles. Sometimes it was so packed with children we couldn’t move and just stood in clots, inching forward in the humid red-glowing semi-darkness until we could escape through the superior vena cava.

Then it was on to my absolute favorite, the Foucault pendulum. I remember it was placed rather unceremoniously in a wide, square, stairwell near the first-floor bathroom. At least the two-hundred or so pound ball at the end of the pendulum was on the first floor. It was attached to a skinny bridge-suspension cable that connected the shiny solid metal ball to the ceiling, four stories above. It was swinging back and forth with the calm steadiness that only something that heavy with its own importance could muster. On the floor was a compass made of elaborately inlayed marble of every conceivable color, in the middle of the compass was a glorious painting of the globe, and in a perfect circle around the globe stood a line of what looked like tall metal pawns. I would hold my breath as the ball would cut closer and closer to the little soldiers. Five second solid whoosh, still standing. Five second solid whoosh, still standing. And then at last, Whoosh 5-4-3-2-1, the little man was hit and deliciously knocked on his side.

Someone gives that thing a push, from north to south, first thing every morning, and it slices back and forth in that same, predictable, straight line all day. The universe however, a demented toddler who won’t be ignored, gleefully spins the earth like a dinged-up top and the earth obediently circles around the pendulum. You think you know how to stay away from that casually swinging guillotine, but one day you glance up as it bears down on you and realize you have been moving toward it, taking your turn, as the pendulum carelessly chops off one head every twenty minutes.

Carla Myers is trying to slow down and see the details of her life instead of running around her house like a demented chicken, pecking at invisible stuff. With an undergraduate degree in sculpture and a J.D. from Dickinson Law School, she followed the most logical path to becoming a writer. Her family is her heart.



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