They call it “clay”; we call it “meat” by Jessica Wright
Photo credit: Earl Wilcox for Unsplash
I remember clearly the first time a friend called herself a meat sack. It was six months into the pandemic, and I was living in a damp, mould-infested basement in Sheffield. I didn’t want to be a meat sack. I had just come home from America, trailing the detritus of a marriage and a career gone wrong. I was transforming in my cocoon, damn it. I was reading tarot. Listening to Brené Brown. I was doing bodywork, and I wanted it to save me. But it was how everyone talked for a while. The real world was online, on Zoom. IRL, we were all just meat sacks. Or we said of the brain: this wet meat in my head; this meat shocked through with electric sparks. What Keats called impassioned clay.
I find the image of the brain as electrified meat oddly soothing. A reminder that anxiety, depression, poetry are all just the rumblings of a meat machine. Nothing to identify with. Something that could be hacked up for a stew or ground into regular, pink worms and browned in a pan. Meat sack is much more unnerving. Perhaps it’s the sense of shapelessness. Skin-suit as container. The absence of any reference to what makes us tick.
Impassioned clay is Biblical of course. But it’s also philosophical: not electricity but passions, that is, sufferings or sicknesses, emotions and desires. The same word that yields, in English, pathos and pathology. The weird duplicity of love and pain that drives us.
When did we turn from clay to meat? When did we stop identifying with earth and instead begin to understand ourselves as a major food source?
It’s a shift perhaps from imagining our bodies as microcosms—tiny models of the universe —toward the idea that we are simply self-glorified animals who not yet dead. A memento mori, not just for ourselves but for the planet. A shift from agricultural cycles to factory-based consumption. An understanding of ourselves as meat for the meat-grinder, food for the machine.
I still don’t want to be a meat sack. I don’t want to be impassioned clay either, to be honest with you. I’d rather be a butterfly: inedible, drunk, new. My body a marvel, then gone.
Jessica Wright (she/her) is a writer and historian. Her work has appeared in both literary and academic journals, such as Michigan Quarterly Review, Mslexia, and Foglifter Journal, as well as in blogs, academic volumes, poetry anthologies, and zines. Her first book, The Care of the Brain in Early Christianity, is forthcoming with the University of California Press in 2022. Her erasure poetry and occasional mash-ups appear on Instagram @sublunam. She is online at www.jessica-wright.co.uk.