Friday, February 20, 2015


No one knows why ducks evolved such insane penises.
Argentine Lack Duck (Oxyura vittata)

Sex was a waterfowl sort of problem in our family.  Not that anyone had screwy dicks, which ducks do, but that there were two levels: one familiar and even attractive, but the part unseen was under the water motivating madly, denied, ugly, stirring up mud.  Never dealt with.

My father purported to be an admirer of women, as a photographer and as a protector of his own female family members.   But he wanted his protection to invite a kind of participation in their private lives.  He never asked me to pose nude, but rather all dressed up or then again in plain underwear -- nothing kinky.   Maybe playing the piano -- middle-class lady things.  He pulled my slightly older cousin into this once, the two of us in boudoir, brushing hair.  I think he was imagining some 19th century sentimental painting.  She tells me now she secretly thought it was too risqué but didn’t protest.  Nor did any adult.  Where did they think the line was?  This was not secret night-time stuff, but almost joking afternoon, door open.  Everyone knew.

When my mother was ready to give birth to me, my father wanted to be present.  My mother did NOT want him there.  She expected an ordeal and as a dedicated stoic wanted all her energy to produce a healthy baby.  She was one of those women who once in a while talk about the awful pain of it, but she also told about the welcome gas cone that knocked her out.  She hated being out of control.  Her very formal Scandinavian doc said not to worry.  He’d take care of it and he did.  No husbands.  The culture agreed.

This split persisted between treating every sexy or gender-assigned issue as --  on the one hand medically explainable and nothing to be ashamed of -- and yet signaling something on the other that was taboo, something deliberately kept secret.  On the one hand my mother asked my father to shave her armpits for her and didn’t hide it.  I thought the idea was to pretend no hair grew there, because if it DID, think of the other places!  

In India shaving armpit hair can be done by a barber.

On the other hand one of my brothers used the word “dinkus” and my father exploded because it meant to him an athletic supporter.  It was a word he learned at the U of Manitoba as an undergrad.  As far as I know, no male in my family ever wore a dinkus.  They must have been hidden from me.  Why is an athletic supporter unmentionable?  My brother was pre-adolescent and talking about something else.

All used female sanitary pads were wrapped tightly into a ball, hidden under other trash, and burned in the fireplace when there were no men around.  My mother said rather bitterly that if I found this inconvenient, I should try growing up in a household of females before disposable pads were invented and laundry was done by boiling everything in a big tub on a wood stove, including the female flannel pads which had to be presoaked.

I ended splitting knowledge between open and shut minds, as everyone did, maybe still do.  On the one hand my mother used and taught me the vocabulary of my aunt, the army nurse.  We said “perry pads” meaning perineum pads.  (Perineum --“Show me the pink!”)  My mother’s ob-gyn forbade tampax, but that was useless advice for me since I had no idea what one tamped them into anyway.  Until much later.  Not that I was numb, just dumb.  Maybe it’s the same thing in some inaccessible way.

The split persisted through life.  Some things were secret, never expressed or admitted -- like love.  Not sex -- love.  To let anyone know (esp. intimates) whom it is you really love, and what made your internal organs do what would be detectable by a female plethysmograph, was to be vulnerable.  Never even let your lovers know -- leave them the pleasure of finding it out. Leave yourself the surprise -- even shock -- of not knowing that could happen until it does.  But give the other person whatever they want.

We talk about the conscious and unconscious in blind ways, as though the body were not involved, as though only the conscious mattered anyway and then only if it could be put into words.  But if sex isn’t physical, what is?  Maybe we should rename the unconscious limbic forces, call them “the dark brain” where an iridescent, pulsing, magnetic and electric cosmos builds and rebuilds itself, using whatever the senses can transmit: gravity, engorgement, habituation, distention, evacuation.  The rhythmic dance of liquid through tubes and then the slow ooze of plasma between the crowded cells, subliminal clasping and release, wandering molecules that connect the larger organs in their orchestration of mood and action.

And yet one can change everything with conscious thoughts.  Sex is one thing: reproduction.  But around that is a universe of enticements, rewards, and arousals, some mystical -- oh, those writhing marble saints with their transfixed faces -- and some just staring for a moment, grand mal seizures versus petit mal seizures.  Now the slick paper snake comes selling pretty plastic wands for which one must buy batteries.  Always the batteries.  No one wants strings attached these days.  But remove the price tag -- that’s nobody’s business.  Still, don't lose your customer number from the back of the catalogue.

The dark brain goes back to the beginning when there was only one cell and it only had four duties: intake, evacuation, metabolism and reproduction.  Molecularly mechanical, but neglect any one of them and no more protozoan.  So the dark brain responds to all four and a bouquet of those primitive forces lingers on through the pheromones of evolution.  If the bright brain can connect to them, exploit them, make them into yearning and fetish, then the creature affected can’t help responding.  Even if it's only poetry.

No need for machinery or even a partner.  Memory and imagination can blast a person through the universe while appearing to be napping, but then you wake shaking, gasping, convulsing, having seen colors and shapes entirely new, remembering being at the edge of some new feeling -- Sound? Smell? -- never known before.  Falling or flying or flung.

What is a felt meaning?  The dark brain passes it over to the bright brain, saying,  “Here, smarty.  Give this a name.  It needs a handle.  A painting will do.  You could compose a song.  Care to tango?"  If you feel its meaning hard and long enough and can get some other person to feel it, too, then it will be real, a contribution to civilization.  

What is the name for earthworms having double-sex, each one hermaphroditic and clasping the other in softly writhing, slippery, pulsing exchange?   Scifi will write about it.  What about that tale about the whore Medusa with electric worms for hair, enough to engulf her customers and sting them to death with ecstasy?  Straight science will give it a Latin name, and a sassy poet will call it “a zipless fuck, doubled.”  A mature earthworm has a clitellum (who knew?) which excretes enough mucous to form a “slime tube around the embracing worms” which is a sort of exterior womb into which they inject their gametes, maybe with a sigh of accomplishment.  Then they crawl on their way, shrugging through the earth, while the slime tube becomes a cozy gestation cocoon.

If no other earthworm is around, the resourceful examples will “lose their heads” which become a separate worm. But they don’t make a slime tube as two worms would, maybe because that would be masturbation.  Well, auto-stimulation.

The number of hearts?  The earthworm does not have a heart.  (What song is that?) The organ in an earthworm that acts as a heart is called the aortic arch. An earthworm has five aortic arches.  (So what do their valentines look like?)  

The “brain” of an earthworm is a neural node above the pharynx, the strong devouring mouth, but then it's segmented into a series of ventral ganglions.  If the brain is removed, the earthworm will not rest; it will crawl and crawl and crawl with no restraint.  If the first ventral ganglion is removed, the earthworm will stop either eating or digging.  Each ganglion senses only its own segment, but each can sense touch, light, vibration and chemical changes.  A mild electrical field in a lawn (a battery) will bring energized worms to the surface.

Earthworms look penile but one size does not fit all.  They can be small or a yard long, sing, or smell like lilies.  I’d like to see one of those blue Amazon jungle monster worms.  Do not release your fishing worms into post-glacial timber because worms eat duff and will kill the trees by collapsing the soil.  Post-glacial forests regenerated by mutating so as NOT to need duff, since the glacier had scraped it all away.  Turn the worms out in the south where they still fertilize the soil.  

Ecology is a kind of morality.  Know your connections, your hungers, your excretions, your version of KY jelly, as you move through the fertile night soil.  

Then dream . . . erotic dreams. . . bittersweet chocolate plush, tiny blue razor-knives, warm peach chiffon flesh fluttering in the kissing wind.  The stink of grief.  All in mucous tubes, sequential, embracing, gestating.

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