56 years old and well past the age
where a man becomes more ashamed
to take off his shirt than his pants,
at a St. Mary's college poetry weekend,
talking late with the kids (I say kids, but
I can no longer tell 21 from 29),
I am invited by a petite anarchic blonde
to go skinny-dipping with "everyone," --
none of my middle-aged cohorts in view.
Wish my wife were with me.
I've never gone skinny-dipping (or
in my case fatty-dipping) before.
Will I embarrass myself?
Hard to see much in the water,
and these kids -- male and female --
are all slim, the girls perfect, but
almost breastless (I've been spoiled),
but lovely, pale, delicate
in the phosphorescent bay
that keeps pricking my feet with broken
oyster shells. I am probably here
to keep everyone modest: My bulk
raises the water level.
They are, indeed, skinny -- to dip
into them would be to impale them.
Will this vivid reminder of our excess flesh
spoil our marriage? For years now, as together
we've fattened, we've bedded only each other.
We're like the man who lifts his calf each day
as it becomes a bull, and with its growth,
grows the man's strength. Thus we have gradually
accustomed our love for each other
to our loosening flesh; and now --
am I shocked to see these funhouse mirrors
that render our accustomed convexities
No, but I expected more. They seemed
so much larger in their clothes, lush dark
nipples lurking in ambush just below
the low, cleft necklines, rich shadows
leading the eye to pursue the soft vanishing
of crossed legs. Nothing here leads me on.
Not a single tingle of arousal. Maybe
because their loveliness is boyish, epicene.
Maybe because the dark, glowing water
is so shrinking cold (a kind of modesty).
Someone is throwing a rubber ball and suddenly
the game is keep-away -- don't let the guys
get it! An excuse to wrestle, so I do,
and am nudged by tiny breasts as I
wrest the ball free, and yet,
I am not aroused. These women
are children young enough to run free
on the beach, and I am no more naked
than an old tree trunk.
I could cup that girl's whole buttock
in one hand. And then what?
Push my fingers into the cleft
and go bowling? Besides, they are probably
rubbery with goosebumps. BRRR.
And yet there is a kind of retroactive excitement,
a sense of what this might have meant to me
40 years ago (the start of a passionate
infatuation with God and the world
and a surge of joy strong enough to overcome
even the groin-grip of icy water!)
when I KNEW that no woman other than, maybe,
a sister, briefly and awkwardly glimpsed,
would ever be naked with me -- that would be
too much to ask (though not too much
to dream of nightly). And if a tiny blonde
breast had brushed my forearm then,
I'd have insisted on marrying it.
In those days, I knew eternal love when I
dreamed it. I always dreamed it naked.
So that's the tiny tingle, mental only,
no message (in this chill
where my toes are being sliced by broken shells)
getting through to my genitals,
which is fine, because my wife
is 120 miles away, and I'd make an awful
old fool. No, it's not MY tingle:
Tonight is my gift to my desperate 16-year-old self.
I reach across the decades to him,
Michelangelo's white-bearded God
stretching out a hairy arm to touch
Adam's finger -- transmitting just a spark,
a certainty that one day there will be
Adam's ample of love and nakedness -- enough,
even, to be able to tell them apart.
He gets it, my old prayerfully masturbating self.
Is this the crime we are ordered to shun
in novels of time-travel? Have I, by changing
the past, changed the present? If so,
no one will know, including myself.
Perhaps I went to St. Mary's a lonely,
hung-up bachelor and left a happily married
extrovert. I do not want to know
that ripples of these changes caused massacres
in Africa or the extinction of species
of butterfly. And since I don't know, let's assume
that my ungirded loins this night
have made things better for everyone.
Am I having fun? Not quite. I want nakedness
to mean something rich. These kids
make it simple, like moonlight,
but I talk to them later (dressed) and find
one man who has had no woman for years
nor ever an orgasm and writes sad songs,
a flirtatious girl who has had no man
for years -- and they say these things to me
sadly, seeming not to see each other -- and
a woman, divorced, with a child, who
loves to go naked and has both a "lover
and a boyfriend" and is afraid of dying,
and all of them anesthetize themselves
(and know they shouldn't) with tobacco, pot
and "medication," and each is sad, scared
and alone (despite loveliness),
overdressed, really, incapable of nakedness,
though they try, writing intimate poems
in personal journals to read aloud in
creative writing workshops.
They have made nakedness so complex
that it is simple for them, a kind
of armor that never rusts.
I want to go home, where I can still
get you to laugh by walking into the bedroom
and saying, OOH! YOU'RE NAKED!! Puffy
pink body-bags -- you? me? -- and they walk,
they talk, they dangle and shake and rub up against
one another and rarely spring a leak
unless you want them to.
And O they are nasty clownish things!
I put my peepee into your peepee
(HOW COULD ANYONE!!!?) and pump
gooey kid stuff into you.
Why are we laughing?
Who are we to laugh?