My deviant question

I’ve been learning about prose poems so here is my first attempt, though I think it might be too long to be called a poem.

Sunday lunch with friends. Warm inside our slice of Greece, wrapped in smells of roasting lamb and hard coffee, laughter and music rise and fall like an exotic chant. Outside it’s a blizzard. A waitress in tight black jeans with black eyes comes and goes bearing divine gifts on small platters. Our conversation weaves and dodges, keeping to the expected stream of lunchtime views, until we get to sex. Masters of Sex.

I’m sitting opposite a young friend (who I’ll call Maddison to protect her innocence) she’s studying at Uni, no not a Masters of Sex, Law, I think. Maddison throws a short and curly one at us, after she’s defined “P&V” for those of us who don’t know what it means. (You probably already know but just in case, P&V is Penis and Vagina). A sex researcher had a fetish for being urinated on, she tells us, using the correct term that escapes me now. To be honest I never knew the term. My fascination for strange pathologies and fetishes only lasted in Psych-101, before I realized that every definition in the textbook is about real people, and therefore about their suffering. And that language and labels limit our understanding of these complex and private experiences for people. When you sit in a room, eye to eye with a real person all you have is yourself. Textbooks and labels, even opinions, only clutter and confuse, and keep you away from hearing their confused truth. But that’s for another poem, perhaps.

While my brain was still sorting through and updating my sexual references (no not preferences, references) Maddison checked with Professor Google but apparently it wasn’t Masters as she’d thought, but some other researcher, who was into the yellow glory of his wife. I made that up, I don’t think Prof Google had that on its list, poetic license.

I asked how she knew such a thing, yes I know I sound like the Grand Auntie, I’m allowed to now. “Sexual Politics,” Maddison replied. She asked if we’d heard of her lecturer, a radical lesbian feminist who needed a body guard to come to lectures. “She’s a political lesbian,” said Maddy. “Oh,” I said in reply.

I’m in awe of young people, so confident and smart and beautiful. At 19 I knew nothing. And every year I know less, so all I’ve gained is uncertainty and the title of Grand Auntie. Everything I thought to be true turns out to be, “maybe true,” even postmodernism. I think I was born in the wrong era. I imagine myself walking along the path beside Plato or Socrates with my hands behind my back, pondering the stars or the shape of the world. Aha but then I would need to be a man! So, back to our feminist lecturer.

Maddy shared the politics of her essay on sexual minorities, transgender, eugenics and sexual reassignment. She explained how our sexuality is constructed socially and politically, and limited by the language we use. I asked what she thought about it all. For a moment she looked confused. I guess no one asks you what you think when you’re an undergrad. They want you to tell them what they think, or write about someone else’s ideas, not your own. I hope she can stay confused till she finishes Uni.

Lunch ended abruptly. I can’t really say why. It was like watching a great movie, I thought I was following the plot well enough, but there was a twist at the end. You know the way some movies are. I missed it. Suddenly we were out in the blizzard saying goodbye and I was driving down the freeway with my confused mind and a question rolling around in my head like a drunken delinquent. And my brain was still recalibrating post P&V.

I don’t usually like to think too much, it only confuses me. Perhaps I’m like my mother. The day I discovered the truth about my mother’s mind was on a Saturday, a late morning phone call. I was bemoaning some private inner struggle. My mother came back at me with, “I only have one thought at a time.” I was impressed. Years of mindfulness and meditation had never given me that. I waited to hear what that one thought was, perhaps the answer to my question of questions. “This week I’ve been wondering, why my cream puffs won’t rise?” she said. I told that story at my mother’s eulogy. It made them laugh between their weeping.

But I had an hour and half of freeway to think so I couldn’t really avoid it. I thought how confortable it is for people to hold onto theories in classrooms and great halls, or even in blogs. To discuss “issues.” But I’ve never met an issue yet. (I think someone else said that, but it’s hard to be original these days because everything’s been done). I’ve only met real people. And people are complicated and contradictory. Science, politics, sociology and even psychology work with curves of majority, the masses, “normal,” and exclude outliers and deviants. I think I might be a deviant. I don’t want to be in the center of the bell curve. There’s a cosmic joke right there. We all want to be normal but no one wants to be average (someone probably said that before too). Well at least not anyone I know, we are all clamoring to be outliers, aka deviants.

So my question rolled around and around in my head as I drove. Why do people hate or kill over sex or gender, politics or any opinion, as if it’s truth, just because someone’s different, or thinks differently? “How can anyone be that certain about anything?” whined my confused mind. The only thing I know for sure is that we all suffer, in that we are the same. Well except my mother, and her rare mind, she claimed she was happy and had no pain. But she doesn’t count. She didn’t fit any bell curve that I’ve ever seen.

That night I listened to a poetry reading by Ted Kooser called “The beaded purse.” I think it’s a prose poem. “The beaded purse” tells of an aging father arriving at a train station to collect his daughter from the train. She’s in a coffin. He hasn’t seen her for years because she’s been away being rich and famous. When he pries open the lid of the coffin, she’s wearing a yellow dress and holding a beaded purse that’s empty. He pushes some money into the purse for his wife to find, and replaces the coffin lid.

I wish I had a pearl of understanding or great wisdom to conclude, but I’m still confused. All I discovered is this, that politics makes the personal general and closes my mind, and poetry makes the general personal and slices through to my heart.

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