cenesthesia

Cenesthesia is, according to Merriam-Webster, “the general feeling of inhabiting one’s body that arises from multiple stimuli from various bodily organs.” It is also spelled coenesthesia, reflecting its roots in Greek κοινός koinos (Latinized as coen–) ‘common’ and αἴσθησις aisthesis (Latinized as aesthesis) ‘sensation, feeling, perception’. But coenesthesia tempts a person to say it as “co-enesthesia,” when in fact it is to be said as “seen-esthesia” – very similar to synaesthesia, which, however, it is not (that’s cross-modal perception, as when a person has a tactile or visual sensation in response to a sound). There’s no point in trying to make it closer to the Greek or Latin pronunciation; it was assembled from the classic plastic bricks in the mid-1800s.

I think a poem is appropriate. Here.

Hello, feet, which glow
so warm (too warm) with distance
thumped by walking for my health.
Hello, legs, which twitch
curiously on random days.
Hello, ass, which has a pain,
several, in fact, literally.
Hello, back, which remembers
all the things I’ve lifted
and a life of slouching
and just wants to discuss
the date of our next massage.
Hello, shoulders, which
are made of hardwood now,
if hardwood aches like this
and keeps me awake from sleeping funny.
Hello, arms, which feel
strong enough once every never.
Hello, fingers, which are just
eight supercharged antennae
knowing fabrics and knots unseen,
sensing every passing sound,
feeling when nearby insects have sex,
so rarely touching other hands.
Hello, thumb, which hurts
for some strange reason today.
Hello, heart, which beats
harder when I’ve had a tuna sandwich
or after climbing the stairs
or when someone drops a dish.
Hello, belly, please tell me
why the things my mouth enjoys
make you hot and bothered so.
Hello, lungs, I’m glad
you haven’t killed me yet
though there were times you tried.
Hello, neck, I know
you’re always wondering when
the next time is that you’ll be kissed.
Hello, eyes, you itch
to see and also itch
whether you see or not.
Hello, nose, don’t pick on me.
Hello, tongue. Hello. Helllllooooo.
Hello, scalp, I hear you say
you want some fingertips;
I’ll see what I can do.
Hello, brain, even though
I’ve never felt you yet,
and that may be for the best.
Hello, body, hello, feelings,
hello, sense I’m still alive,
hello, cenesthesia. Hi.

3 responses to “cenesthesia

  1. Oh my gosh. I love it! (I don’t usually comment because I like nearly every post. You write so well. But I love this poem!)

  2. I had thought “the general feeling of inhabiting one’s body” was proprioception, so memorably described by Oliver Sacks in “The Disembodied Lady”:

    She continues to feel, with the continuing loss of proprioception, that her body is dead, not-real, not-hers—she cannot appropriate it to herself. She can find no words for this state, and can only use analogies derived from other senses: ‘I feel my body is blind and deaf to itself … it has no sense of itself’—these are her own words.

    So what’s the difference between that and cenesthesia? Proprioception is the more specific term: it means the sense of the position and tone and motion of the movable parts of the body, derived from sensory nerves in the joints and tendons and muscles. Cenesthesia seems to be more general, including all the feelings described in your poem. And googling both of them told me that other writers have also responded to these technical medical terms with poems! Here’s Charles Olson’s “Proprioception”.

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