F u g u e f o r T h r e e P l a y e r s
I. GREENSTEIN AND JOY (AND GREENSTEIN AND JOY)
Joy is massaging my temples. My head is in her lap. Her back is leaning against a broad oak on the great lawn of the university. She is singing an aria from Puccini, some Puccini aria or something. She is massaging the ache in my temples. She is singing Puccini in that scholarship voice of hers, the one that got her from the South Bronx to the Ivy League.
"You went to college for a song," I tell her. And now she is singing Puccini for me, and I am certain she knows how much I love her.
But I am also in love with Greenstein. And this is my dilemma. And Joy knows it. Knows that I am in love with them both and that it is my dilemma.
I fell in love with Greenstein during his famous "firefly" seminar wherein he explains how you can learn about the nature of time and space by studying the motion of this particular insect. "Just try to catch one and you'll see what I mean," he said. "How the mouth of your jar has to be just the right size to capture the creature's past, present and future all at the same time. Its tempio-spacio relationship to reality." And there I was, grinning
at him like a grinning idiot. And then I told Joy how pure his intelligence was, "Like a test tube," I said. "Tubular, clear. Able to mix up anything you can imagine and make it come out something entirely else; a new atomic element, or the one amino acid scientists are going to discover in a pebble on Triton one Thursday morning when everyone else is at work."
Joy chides me. "You'll never live a normal life," she says and slides her fingers through my hair, toys with my hoop earring, giving it a gentle tug, "not being able to choose. Not even a happy life either," she adds, knowing happiness might compel me where normalcy cannot.
Then she insists we play the game. Our game. The "what-if-you-had-to-choose" game.
"I would choose the crescent of your hip and Greenstein's mind bejeweled with fireflies," I chant.
"And his hands that hold the air like a tiny glass bell," she sings.
"And your songs that fill the small spaces quickly as salt," I finish.
We have constructed this poem together, she and I, perfected the iambs and dactyls of my equivocation.
II THE SMILING MADONNA
When Ruth was eighteen she said goodbye to the grinding metallic grief of Henry Miller's Williamsburg Bridge and went off to college. There she met Naomi, and together they shared a blue-eyed young man on the stunted dunes of Long Island. They ate lobster tails and steak and drank too much wine. Then the young man took them both back to his house, which was really his Uncle Louie's summer cottage with its two tiny bedrooms.
When it was Ruth's turn for sex in the blue bedroom, she smelled the mold that carpeted secret places under the floorboards and smiled to herself because she knew she wasn't in love. When Naomi was in the blue bedroom, Ruth was in the pink one where the Madonna stared at her from the night-table. The statue belonged to Uncle Louie, and he made the young man promise to keep Her there during the semester or be thrown out himself. She always seemed to smile so approvingly at Ruth, so Ruth smiled right back.
The young man wanted them both in his bed at the same time. He wanted to watch them touch each other, but they refused; Ruth, because it was only him she desired, Naomi because her budding lover's heart would not comply. So they only granted part of his wish.
They all got into his tiny bed in the blue bedroom, him in the middle. But Naomi turned away when it was Ruth's turn. Like a plant bending away from the darkness in the corner, she took root and hoped for the light. When it was Naomi's turn, Ruth fell asleep.
Poor Naomi. She fell in love like into quicksand. If only she could have kept still everything would have been alright. But she panicked and they all went down. Their blue-eyed boy was getting the old nudge-nudge, wink-wink from his buddies, with both of them buzzing around him like honeybees, but he wound up leaving them both anyway. At first Naomi wanted to kill herself. But then, she married a doctor of her own religion, and moved to suburbia.
III MEN & WOMEN & SEX
I was not in love with him. Like my brother he was fat and hairy. He couldn't put me in the mood. I preferred to watch films with him, or discuss literature, because in those departments he provided so much amusement I nearly cried with delight.
We had discussions. "Men live in a psycho-sexual world, essentially alone with their thoughts and desires," he explained. "Women live in a psycho-social world, surrounded by others and the `He said-She said' that shapes their lives."
He taught me things: "A man meets a woman and the first thing he thinks is `Would I fuck her?' The next thing he thinks is `Could I?' A woman meets a man and thinks `Is he married?'"
I taught him things: "The size of the cock is never part of women's fantasies. Fantasy involves setting, props and dialogue. The cock is always a wonderful surprise. Before sex a man should be very careful. At that stage the wrong word, a cheap restaurant, a wayward glance, dries a woman up."
But from all our discussions, somehow, my sexual arousal never emerged. Of course, as these kinds of stories go, I was in love with someone else at the time. With him, there was little talk. Our world was horizontal. After sex there was always cake. I introduced him to those chocolate cupcakes with the white squiggle down the middle. He worked diligently at removing that squiggle intact, delicately manipulating it between his teeth and his tongue.
But, after six months we were spent. My hairy man, as usual, analyzed the situation correctly:
"You two are like old conquistadors. Satisfied, smug in your discoveries, but afraid to acknowledge that there is no more frontier. I am your true pioneer and I will build a cover over the wagon of your doubting heart."
And so I married my hairy man and we had married sex: the essence of life, the meat and potatoes, the fresh blood welcomed by the innocent bicameral heart, or salty bicameral mollusk. It is one long fuck, sometimes exquisite, or else strewn around like yesterday's undies and socks under the bed, coated with the dust of flesh, clung to with creatures we cannot see. It is the ovum, the soggy woolen vagina and the flaccid penis practicing gratitude. Married sex: the sweet pool of coffee breath with cream and sugar, the specific gravity of his body, and the angle of his hopeful cock every single morning of our lives.
IV WYNKEN BLYNKEN AND NOD
In her first sexual dream there was not one tall dark and handsome male cupping her tiny chin in his massive hand, tilting her head gently up to meet his steely eyes with their glint of restrained lust for her voluptuous femininity.
There was a crowd. Everyone was naked, pink, and plump as a peach. Their genitals were all the same: a gentle bulge, a polymorphous mound. The room was a suitable orgiastic red. Everybody moved slowly. It was as if they were all asleep. When she awoke there was a throbbing in her loins, though she knew nobody used that word --loins-- anymore.
The first time she touched herself, it was to this dream, these cherubim, that she tensed her hips. The first time it happened she held back, afraid the force of it might explode the light bulbs.
Her first boyfriend was a profound disappointment. Fresh from the long narrow streets of boyhood he needed her body for a lean-to. Subsequent lovers all wanted to try “new” things but all the new things were always the same with each one of them.
Then, in her third year of college, she drank too much beer and allowed a red-haired boy with pale green eyes to make love to her. His touch was the touch of that fleshy crowd though he was tall and freckled. Night after night she said her prayers to the small of his back, the insides of his freckled knees, the Big Dipper she discerned on his upper arm.
Dressed for Halloween, standing before the mirror together, she was Copernicus, he was The Heavens.
Then he fell in love with someone else. She was tall and tawny-haired, freckled gently not violently as he was. But he couldn't end it with the lost lover. He still wanted her and the designs she discovered daily along his slender arms, long legs and smooth back. One day she found Sirius the Dog Star, and one day it was Wynken, Blynken and Nod complete with their wooden shoe.
For the new lover he was not an unexplored galaxy. He was her due. From her part of the country, from her kind of people. Sex meant he pleased her and she in turn would let him touch her in ways she found somewhat distasteful. That they belonged together anyone could see. And together they would marvel at the imaginings of the lost lover. It never occurred to the new lover that he might prefer the other. She even agreed when he suggested, quite casually, that the three of them drive the long, dark roads of New England, searching for Christmas lights.
Like Wynken, Blynken and Nod they floated through the darkness. In the front seat of their wooden shoe she sat propped between them; a small bird-like child, the lost lover, hollow-boned, feathered with desire.
Copyright 2018 Rachel A Levine