essay by Jeanine van Berkel – 29 November 2022
Bodies and Breath: Embodied Research & Writing

My body is a house

Which means it is a place that I can leave

Which means it is also a place to come back to

At the moment,
I am lost inside

This haunted house

I am filled with thousands of rooms                   just waiting
They breathe in the emptiness of forgotten memories



First I entered my mouth                   but there is nothing left here

All my teeth have fallen out

My tongue tells me that once there were thirty-two of them but they slowly left as there was nothing left to say. Had they possessed the words, they might have said that it was not as if they expected to find something that could make history hurt less or fill the hole inside of us, because it was not the kind of hole that could be filled and then would go away.1 So
I begin to count back. Thirty-two, thirty-one, thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight, twenty-seven, twenty-six is the amount of years I am here inside this silence(d) body.

My body is the known and the unknown together. It embodies many questions and houses the answers as well, but I did not find those yet.

My body has been questioned time and time again about how it looks that                   sometimes I began to doubt myself. I look like I am not from here or there. (I guess) I am from everywhere and I am from nowhere. (I just cannot remember where that is).

I begin to trace the inside of my mouth with my finger. The texture of the wall is soft and slimy. I wonder if you can hear me through the gap of my teeth. The air inside is heavy and wet. My gaze is softened by the red hue that fills the space. At the back of the room I see darkness. I begin to move towards it but the floor is uneven and bounces back with every step I take. I fall


When I open my eyes                   I am in another room.
I have to get used to the lights in here. It is quite dark                   it seems as if there are some candles lit in the corners. My body feels stiff so I stretch it. First I wiggle my fingers and toes. After that I carefully move my legs and arms. My body rolls to the side and now the lights are on the ceiling. With the movement, I hear the tinkling of dead coral
As if I am under water                   I sit up and look around
In the middle of the room sits a pile of bones                   They are small and when I pick one up, it fits right in my hand.

With my other hand, I make a fist and think about how my mama turned purple                   not once but many                   while looking at my fist, I remember a memory that is not mine

                   I was there though but I was inside the water and my mama was drowning                   

deep into the purple sea                   there was not even an ocean floor                   only the core of the earth which held us until it was over                   my eyes closed the whole time                   so I asked the sea what happened                   then I asked the ocean floor what happened but they were not there                   then I asked the core what happened                   because my mama could not talk for ten years                   sometimes grief is slow like that

But I wonder

what is there left to say?


My fist reminds me of the Hand                   the man who looks like me but I have never met him I only see him when I look in the mirror                   his black eyes are looking back at my black eyes and I wonder if these are the same eyes looking b(l)ack                   but I do not know the answer to this question                   because I cannot remember him                   not even a little

Yesterday, I dreamed of him                   inside of my subconscious he died. One of my half-brothers told me. I did not know how to feel. I have thought about this moment already

many times.
I tried to imagine how it would feel.

Would I feel loss?

Would I feel grief?

Would I feel like the opportunity to meet him would have slipped

through my hands?


The next day, I flew to Curaçao. Almost in a haze I arrived at the funeral home. The room was dark purple. When I entered, I saw all these unfamiliar familiar faces looking at me. I focused on the casket that was open, but horizontally turned away from sight. I walked over and slowly walked around to see                   him.

He could have been anybody.
I did not recognize his                   our                   face

And I felt nothing.

Suddenly, he opened one eye and peaked at me. He was not dead. He tricked me to come here just so he could see me, so I could see him, so he saw me, so I saw him, so he saw himself, so I saw myself, so




I stored the dark purple room inside my shoulder                   since then, I have never entered it again


The negative space of my fist                   the bone                   the coral                   the imprint                   has crumbled to dust. I walk towards the pile and take another one                   make dust                   and another and another until the whole floor is covered in a layer of soft off-white matter                   I have been here for hours already                   maybe days                   weeks                   months                   years                   again                   forever

Behind me a door opens. I see a silhouette walking inside the room. They begin to collect the dust with their hands. I only see their arched back                   I walk over and softly touch their shoulder but there is nothing to touch                   my hand goes right through
their body                   the ghost                   does not move                   keeps collecting the residue                   undisturbed

There are many ghosts wandering through this house. I do not always see them. I just know that they are here

wandering in the silence of lost memory
wandering until they are home

But I do not think I will ever find home
Maybe home is wandering until it is home


It is warm here. I have missed being warm as I am in a country that is cold. I do not live here, I stay here. That is a difference. It gives me reason to keep dreaming of a place to call home. I have forgotten where I am from. I have forgotten my island. The cold wind has made my skin almost translucent so that I would blend in but that never happened. My curly black hair has seen too much to trust anyone                                                       that is why it started a riot. Sometimes the hurt is so great that there is nothing left to do than take it all even if it is not yours to take

Last year my house almost got burned down. There is a pure liquid fire threatening to annihilate. And I’m afraid2                                                       inside

I find myself in an endless room                   with rows of bones                   on different rectangular sized pieces of cloth                   the ones near me have a lighter color than the ones farther away. I walk over                                                        and see that they are still wet                   In this room the bones are drying                   I know this because I have made them all myself                   I keep molding the same shape over and over again                   First in my left hand                   my right hand                   back to my left                   until it hurts

What do I keep looking for?

Slowly all the empty rooms are being filled with memories
I turn silence into bones                   just so I can hold on to memories I will never know                   just to fill the empty space inside my house
inside my body
There are still so many empty rooms left
Sometimes I choose not think about the emptiness but it does not disappear
For a while it fades from the mind but I know it creeps like a parasite into my soft tissue, muscles and glands.3 It slowly eats my body from the inside.


I stretch my fingers


here I store all my lovers so I remember who I have fallen for                   I keep the love story of my mama and the Hand                   even though the only place they will ever see each other again is my face                   I wonder if I am a painful reminder of the person she so badly wants to forget but still haunts her when she closes her eyes even when it is more than a generation ago
(She said, “no, it is not like that at all.”)


I have been walking for a while now. The hallway I am in is slightly curved towards the left. I am not sure if I have been here before as there are so many rooms, hallways, stairs, walls, floors                   but never a window. I am not sure where the light is coming from but there is just enough for me to see                   a gaping hole to my right. My belly begins to growl as if I am hungry                   I know I have to be close to my core. I move my body to the ground and lay on my stomach                   so I can look over the edge                   inside the hole I see a bright liquid                   just below the surface I see some objects floating
I cannot quite see what they are so I move myself a few centimeters forward                   a gold glimmer catches my eyes. I think these are the gold earrings my mama bought from her first salary and gifted them to me a few years back                   the elongated hoops carry two dolphins inside

a big one and a small one
my mama and me

These earrings carry meaning, history, memory
What if you transfer the memory to a piece of paper. Is it still the same?

Suddenly, the liquid begins to rise. I grab the earrings in the movement                   while I am completely surrounded                   drenched by the gooey, stingy fluid                   I hold my breath and close my eyes. I hold the earrings in my fist. Everything is going really fast and I try to grab                   something anything

The next thing I know I gulp for air. I have a salty taste in my mouth                   salt tells the history of the sea                   which is heavy with the lives of people that did not make it to the other side                   I have crossed so many times but I still wander from side to side                   in the in between                   I shuttle back and forth between the worlds of the living and the dead because of the stories not passed on, the ancestors not remembered, the things lost, and the debts not yet paid. I am the “come, go back, child” that braves the wreckage of history and bears the burdens that others refuse.4 I am restless                   forever

I look around. I am at the center of my stomach                   body                   house. I have seen enough for now because I know I cannot escape this haunted                   body                   house. After everything, I crawl out of my belly bottom. I know I will have to go back
I promise I am coming back
But maybe not right now
Maybe not tomorrow

Jeanine van Berkel

Jeanine van Berkel is a graphic designer, visual researcher and writer. She is interested in what way her multi-ethnic body relates to the bigger colonial structures – especially focusing on the relationship between Curaçao and the Netherlands. In her ongoing research and story through the semi-forgotten memory of herself and (un)known history of her various motherlands, she looks for answers and shapes what silence looks like.

↑ 1

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York, June 2007, pp. 199

↑ 2

Rebecca Walker, Black White Jewish – Autobiography of a Shifting Self (Riverhead Books New York, 2001) pp.184 - 187

↑ 3

Rebecca Walker, Black White Jewish – Autobiography of a Shifting Self (Riverhead Books New York, 2001) pp.184 - 187

↑ 4

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York, June 2007, pp. 86