Monday, April 20, 2015

NPM: Millay Goes Down

Vincent Millay

Let's revisit flapper poet Edna St. Vincent Millay a moment. She's a class act, she is: one of the twentieth century's most renowned practitioners of the sonnet form, and certainly one of its most passionate. Although her poetry doesn't really broach the erotic, it pulses with a sensuality and longing that pounds against the walls of the verse in which it is framed. (If you've read more than four of her poems, you probably didn't need to glance at her biography to know she was polyamorous and bisexual.)

Today's poem isn't by Millay herself, but contemporary poet Moira Egan, who speaks for her in a piece that encompasses several of Millay's usual themes: desire, memory, and intimacy, and also oral sex. Enjoy! (The refrain at the top of each stanza is, of course, the first line and title of one of Millay's most well-known sonnets.)

Millay Goes Down
Moira Egan (b. ?)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why?
And where? Yes, there. That summer in the barn,
he'd spread me on the hay bales, sixty-nine,
oblivious to scratches, clothes half-on,
we'd take forever. Salty, sweaty both,
and kissing back the taste, each other on

each other's avid lips. I learned a truth
perhaps more grown than I was then, so when
a lady I know says she won't do this,
that that's what whores are for, it makes me sad.
It seems a gift, devotion at the source
of all our humanness; best when, instead
of needing gesture, pressure, Please, go south,
he softly asks me, Do you want my mouth?

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why?
Why not's as good as why sometimes, why not
Seduce this boy whose face, in candlelight,
looks slightly older, almost appropriate.
Your fingertips might almost brush his hand
as you both dip bread into the oil.
You laugh and make it clear you understand
he'd rather hang out with a younger girl.
He says he's never had this wine, mourvèdre;
pronounces that he likes full-bodied,
strong and complicated wine (you think educable,
right on
) and then his hand is on

your shoulder, and he kisses you, his mouth
quite like a warm, mourvèdre fountain of youth.

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