Sex In A Small Town from Issue 91/92
When I was thirteen sex was the kind of natural disaster
that never traveled far enough northwest to reach my neighborhood
pressed flat between British Columbia and rural Washington.
Sex was an earthquake that buckled buildings in southern California
or a funnel cloud that wrung Kansas out like a sponge.
It flooded the east coast or froze cows solid in the Midwest,
it left everyone out of work and tired-looking on the front page
of our PNW Gazette, which we read as kids when our teachers
asked us to study Current Events: Lorena Bobbitt, a woman
whose name made my uncle cross his legs under the table,
made him say sex was a madwoman’s handgun, or Bill Clinton, a man
my mom called smooth, who got sex from a woman who could
curl herself up under a desk like a puppy. Sex was something
that flooded other towns and sank quietly into our wells,
wholly invisible, public, and brutal. I only knew it involved the pelvic area.
As a girl I nailed narrow scraps of plywood to the trunk
of an enormous cedar in the middle of our neighbor’s hay field,
improvising a sort of ladder toward the top branches,
and I thought about sex while I worked, how I could never
stand to spend that much time speaking with a boy let alone
exploring his body. Sex was, on a scale of boredom,
somewhere between a board game and electrocution,
an activity imported from adulthood for which I could never
have any use. In seventh grade Amber Beard slipped into first period English
and said she learned over the weekend that cum tastes like sugar-water.
After she explained what cum was I couldn’t believe she’d turned
a verb into a noun. I couldn’t taste the elevation of her palette.
But it occurred to me that sex may not be so bad if it was sweet,
if it went beyond the business of privacy and a girl like Amber Beard
could tolerate it. I considered how it might be worth the destruction
it seemed to cause in the news, in my parents, and in the city
seventy miles south of us. It could be, I thought, like the ancestors
of hurricane victims, who say their loss is redeemed
by new schools, a stone fountain, higher levees.