“The sad fact we’ve uncovered at the Conscious Cleanse is that most people take better care of their cars than they do their own bodies” (The Conscious Cleanse, 2015).
It was the day she’d been dreading-
remembering that drive to the house
where she’d spent her summers
crumbling at the seams.
She let herself in, unguarded,
into those familiar cobwebbed rooms,
where gossip and barking dogs
echoed through the plaster.
A week’s work, condensed into four days’
continual heavy lifting
into bags and bins and skips,
keeping those dusty photos
those ugly china knick-knacks,
giving clothes to the charity shop:
blouses and skirts long out of fashion,
stripping everything else,
vacuuming the memories:
feeling guilty about what she had left
gutted out like a fish.
This poem explores the theme of cleansing by displacing the word from the context of food. Like the quote from the wellness blog and book The Conscious Cleanse which compares caring for our cars to our bodies, Cleansing of the Temple uses the theme of clearing out a house after a relative has died as a metaphor for the cleansing process of our bodies. I chose this theme because of certain resemblances to the attitudes promoted by the health-food movement: the idea that cleansing can provide a ‘new beginning,’ existing alongside spiritual or religious connotations of guilt, redemption and sacrifice.
Within the health-food world, cleansing has become a means to purify, detoxify, and sanctify the body. Cleanses can be used for different purposes and undertaken in different contexts. For example, author of Honestly Healthy Cleanse Natasha Corrett (2015) provides recipes for a number of cleanses, which involves following a strict diet for 3 days up to a week comprising mainly of juice. Ranging from the “feel good” cleanse, to the “life changing” cleanse, this book offers to not only alter one’s health, but one’s entire state of mind. Unlike fasting, in which the lack of food provides spiritual enhancement, cleansing offers its spiritual solution through the added nutrients you will receive. Deliciously Ella says she “honestly felt like a different person at the end,” after partaking in a 3-day juice cleanse, as it filled her body with “goodness” (Woodward, 2015). I made a stark contrast to this with the sad theme of the poem, where instead of being filled with goodness, the house is left “gutted out like a fish.” Yet they also share similarities in the spiritual themes of new beginnings; the poem depicts a “life-changing” and meaningful occasion.
The title Cleansing of the Temple alludes to the biblical reference in which Jesus is angered at the temple’s conversion into a market. “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12–13). To me, this story resonates with themes within the health-food world, where “unclean” foods are seen as dishonest or deceitful like the items in the temple. Secondly, I wanted to use the play of words on the idea that “the body is a temple” (Corinthians, 6:19). The relative’s old house in the poem is used as a metaphor for the body, yet the word “temple” clashes with the imagery of a crumbling, cobwebbed, and empty house. This contrasting imagery extends to the comparison between the bleak and depressing job of clearing out a house and the allegedly uplifting and positive experience of cleansing the body. These contrasts are in place to provoke thought about why this trend has become so popular, and consideration of the dangers or negative connotations to cleansing the body. I particularly question the sense of guilt that is associated with the modern discourse of healthy eating. Whilst cleansing in the food context is normally associated with being “good” and reducing guilt, this poem shows the opposite. By placing the cleansing of the body out of context, I inquire what the moral connotations of cleansing might be.
Corrett N. 2015. Honestly Healthy Cleanse. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
Woodward E. 2014. “About.” DeliciouslyElla. URL:http://deliciouslyella.com/?s=healthy+eating. Accessed June 2015.