Thursday, April 16, 2015

NPM: John Updike poems about vaginas

Gustave Corbet, L'Origine du monde

Yesterday I was reading through a book of John Updike's poetry (a birthday gift from the gracious and gentle-hearted C. Rogers) and came across these: a pair of poems about women and their bodies. The collection, Tossing and Turning, was published in 1982—decades after Howl and Other Poems beat the obscenity charges and expanded the range of what could be addressed by and published as mainstream poetry, but also decades before intersectionality politics became a lens (and a structuring filter) through which any thinking person must needs approach (and put forth) art and ideas. A man writing visceral poetry about women and their genitals—with the titles "Cunts" and "Pussy"—might be inescapably Problematic. Maybe. But I'm not going to cast any verdicts in that regard. In spite of (or maybe because of) the politics they're tangled with, I admire these poems for affirming that for all our civilizing, our intellects and our seething corporeal urges make strange bedfellows, and the relationship of the individual to other people, their bodies, and to the fact of copulation remains really rather complicated.

John Updike (1932 – 2009)

(Upon Receiving The Swingers Life Club
Membership Solicitation)

The Venus de Milo didn't have one, at least no pussy
that left its shadow in the marble, but Botticelli's Venus,
though we cannot see it for her sea-anemone hand,
did, no doubt——an amber-furred dear mouth we would kiss
could we enter the Arcadian plane of the painting.
We must assimilate cunts to our creed of beauty.
September Morn held her thighs tight shut, and the dolls
we grew up undressing had nothing much there, not even MADE IN USA,
but the beauties we must learn to worship now all
have spread legs, splayed in bedspreaded motel beds,
and the snowflakes that burst forth are no two alike:
convolute snapdragons, portal and tears
and T-bones of hair, lips lurid as slices of salmon,
whirlpooly wisps more ticklish than skin, black brooms
a witch could ride cackling through the spatter of stars,
assholes a-stare like monocles tiny as dimes.

"I adore French culture and can really blow your mind"
"half of an ultra-sophisticated couple prefers"
"love modeling with guys or gals and groovy parties"
"affectionate young housewife would like to meet"
"attractive broadminded funloving exotic tastes"

glory Gloria fellatio Felicia Connie your cunt
is Platonism upside down and really opens innocence
the last inch wider: I bite and I believe.

"Who put this mouse between my legs if not the Lord?
Who knocks to enter? Pigs of many stripes.
My cunt is me, it lathers and it loves
because its emptiness knows nothing else to do.
Here comes the stalwart cock, numb-headed hater,
assassin dragging behind him in a wrinkled sack
reproduction's two stooges; refrigerated in blood,
the salt sperm thrashes to mix with my lipstick.
Nibble my nipples, you fish. My eyelashes tickle your glans
while my cunt like a shark gone senile yawns for its meal.
In my prison your head will lean against the wet red wall
and beg for a pardon and my blood will beat back No.
Here is my being, my jewel, simpler than a diamond,
finer-spun than Assyrian gold and the Book of Kells,
nobler than a theorem by Euler, more darling than a dimple
in a Steuben-glass Shirley Temple——flesh-flower, riddle
of more levels than a Pyramid passageway greased with balm.

A woman once upon a bed with me
to kiss my soul went down but in addition thrust
her ass up to my face and trembled all her length
so I knew something rare was being served; of course
the lapping was an ecstasy, but such an ecstasy
I prayed her distant face grow still so I could drink
the deeper of this widening self that only lacked
the prick of stars to be a firmament.

this hole that bleeds with the moon so you can be born!"
Stretched like a howl between the feet pushing the stirrups
the poor slit yields up the bubble of a skull.
Glad tunnel of life, foretaste of resurrection,
slick applicant of appropriate friction
springing loose the critical honey from the delirious bee.

"You can meet these swinging gals" "you
can be in direct contact with these free-thinking modern people"
"if you are a Polaroid photography enthusiast"
"you can rest assured your membership"
"you will discover the most exquisite, intimate"
                    and the clitoris
like a little hurt girl turns its face to the corner.

Well, how were we to know that all you fat sweethearts
were as much the vagina's victim as the poor satyr who sells
his mother's IBM preferred to procure three whores
to have three ways at once——by land, by sea, by air?
"It was all a sacred mush of little pips to me."
Now you tell us, tell us and tell us, of a magical doorbell
crocheted of swollen nerves beneath the fur
and all the pallid moon from scalp to toes decuple
not quite this molehill of a mountain is
the Mare of Disenchantment, the Plain of No Response.
Who could have known, when you are edible all over?
So edible we gobble even your political views
As they untwist in lamplight, like lemon peel from a knife.

Tell us O tell us why is it why
the hairs on the nape of your neck say cunt
and the swirl in your laugh says cunt
and your fingernails flanking cigarette
and the red of the roof of your mouth and your mischief
and your passion for the sleeping dogs and the way
you shape hamburgers naked-handed and the way
you squat to a crying child so the labia stain
your underpants cry cunt CUNT there is almost
CUNT too much of a CUNT good thing CUNT

"And howzabout
That split banana second when
(a clouded tear in its single eye,
stiff angel stuffed with ichor)
the semen in good faith leaps
(no shadows live on marble
like these that coat my helpless hands)
and your [unmentionable]
enhouses the cosmic stranger with a pinch?"

It is true, something vital ebbs from the process
once the female is considered not a monstrous emissary
from the natural darkness but as possessing personhood
with its attendant rights, and wit.
I pulled a Tampax with my teeth and found it, darling,
not so bloody. I loved the death between your toes.

I glazed my sallow fill in motel light until
your cunt became my own, and I a girl. I lost
my hard-on quite; my consciousness stayed raised.
Your mouth became a fumble at my groin.
You would not let me buck away. I came,
and sobbed, triumphantly repentant. You said
with a smile of surprise it was warm,
warm on the back of your throat, hitting,
and not salty, but sweet.
We want to fill your cunt but are unmanned.
My sobbing felt like coming. Fond monster,
you swallowed my tears. We were plighted.
I was afraid. I adore your cunt. But why
is there only one? Is one enough? You cunt.

"I'm available . . . and so are hundreds of other
eager young girls who are ready to pose FOR YOU!"

Corinna, even your shit has something to be said for it
"avant garde of a new era of freedom" (Coronet)
"dawn of a culture phenomenon" (Playboy)
"Dr. Gilbert Bartell, the renowned culture anthropologist"
"page after page of totally rewarding sexual knowledge
that will be an invaluable asset in your search for greater
sexual understanding Only through complete understanding
can man hope" "Discretion is our middle name!"

Daphne, your fortune moistens. Stand. Bend down. Smile.


A preliminary Epithalamium 

Tendrilous cloudlet in nakedness's sheer sky:
welcome mat gathered where the flowing body forks
and makes known its crux: wave-crest upon the shoal
where exaltedness founders and foamingly sinks:
bull's-eye where even the absent-minded arrow home:

forest concealing the hunted that is itself:
lair and prey and predator at once, sly fur
and arcanum, fragrat of woodfern and mossmulch,
furtive in its underbrush, fine nerves alert
yet asleep in the fitness of whatever is heavenly made:

dark gown the cunt put on to go out walking upright
that then, redundantly, let itself be gowned
in underpants, dank girdles, G-strings, step-ins, slips
through whose weave your triangular blot like a watermark
shines in the minds of the masculine perusers:

remainder, reminder of all that is animal:
dregs at the V of the torso's white wineglass,
concentrate, essence, summary, footnote,
addendum that cancels, in Gothic black letter,
Platonic misreadings of the belly's bland text:

concealer of lips, like a mustache, netherly,
feathery, tentative, tendermost, utterly
underhand-holdable: grace, veil and tracer, mane,
vague mass, forbidding mask, dark witticism, witty touch,
Grail, doe's tail, shy signal, and mere mystery:

let man never weary of such doting denoting,
such cunnilocutions and lingual adoration.
See him rise from his knees, chin wet and abraided
but slavish heart in harmony: chords ring beyond
the muffled clitoris of which he is one note, but one

the music needs to smuggle itself from silence.
My saint, impose the jubilant penance whereby
the gateways to rest batter down: absolve my rod.
Your pussy, it is my pet, it is my alter, totaliter
aliter: unknowable, known, and wild, subdued.

1 comment:

  1. Yikes. School's been so crazy that I have totally neglected the most magical of months. I had never actually read Updike's poetry before. Good stuff.