Girl on the Monkey Bars

There is a story about the miners at the Arctic Circle that Kathleen Stewart (2007) tells. The men are putting out cigarettes, every one they smoke, on the backs of their hands. The hands are covered in scars. On their skins forms an “abstracted sign of collective identity … [one that] propose an extreme trajectory. It shows where things can go, taking off in their own little worlds, when something throws itself together”.

I always go back to the Girl on the Monkey Bars. I sketch scenes from the slow-motion film that runs before my eyes: torso swaying, hands desperately holding on, body weight shifting, muscles flexing, failing, succeeding. The palms are sweaty. Irritated skin turns pink and then tomato-red. The Girl is in a state of perpetual discomfort of swinging legs and twisted elbows. It is just like the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit warned us: monkey bars are the playground structure most associated with injury.

When a car stops at the edge of the park, and a seatbelt is released, she swings open the car door. The trajectory is always-always – to the monkey bars. Hands wrap, body swings, arm reaches violently. Holds, releases, repeats, returns, starts again. She insists her mother looks at her irritated red palms, “They hurt your hands. It’s proof that you can do them well.” Metal bars produce signs of identity: a club of those who love cold metal and lavish in burned skin and callouses. And the composition reveals itself ugly joy-killing, laugh-stripping fight:

Calling it “play” doesn’t make the violence of the moment go away. Play is a way to push into being before thinking arrives.

Grab onto the bar and pull the world into your hands. Attuning to the metal bars so tightly that they can propel you across space.

She is meeting the sand by letting it enter her hair, stuffing it in the pockets, catching it in her mouth.

He knows the plastic slide by the sound of rubber soles pushed against its sides, by breathing in the hot air inside its curves.