(title from poem xvii by e.e. cummings)
Rumi is a long time favorite of mine. His love poems speak often of desire, as does the Judeo-Christian Song of Solomon. Religious apologists say that the use of erotica in these and other sacred writing is an allegorical way of describing an ideal relationship with the divine. I never really never got it.
Even in childhood, rapturous encounters with beauty and intellectual excitement aroused my body as well as my mind and spirit. I had experienced feelings of transcendence during sex. I groked the concept. I mean look at Bernini’s statue of Saint Theresa in ecstasy at being pierced by the angel’s arrow. I understood how artists and poets could run with the idea, but somehow it still didn’t compute for me as a spiritual equation.
Fast forward through my life with all its attendant sexual experiences, confusions and life lessons to a moment in my forties. One summer day, while lying in the shade of a grove of trees on a massage table the masseuse ran her hand along my spine and asked, “What do you want? I immediately burst into tears, realizing in that moment that I had never allowed myself to really want anything. It took a long time to work through that revelation, but it was the beginning of my exploration of desire.
I began reading and writing erotica. It was fun, enlightening, stimulating and took me several steps further towards self-integration. Writing erotica is a great practice. For one thing, it is safe – you can experiment imaginally, without venturing into dangerous real-life situations. Contrariwise, your poetry can act as an exercise room or sounding board for trying out something you might want to explore in real life. Your poems can be a way to give yourself permission to try new ways of being and acting sexual.
Fast forward again to an even older more experienced, much more integrated and wiser woman. I encounter a younger, incredibly sexy man who floods me with desire…
The Naked Man is so good looking
when he walks in the café door
all our panties dampen.
He’s got a pheromone machine inside him
churning out sex appeal.
For that, we forgive him many sins.
…and he feels the same way. He is a poet (as luck would have it), a narcissist and puer, madly intelligent, well read, full of insatiable curiosity, and adventurous. He also has a wife and children, whom he’s in the process of abandoning; talks incessantly about his (rationalized) sexual conquests in philosophical terms and is, in all ways, unsuitable as a lover.
Happily, I knew this all the way through my bones. (This, in fact, is the definition of wisdom – incorporated knowledge) But it fascinated and surprised me, how willing and able I was to draw the line at consummation and yet remain in flirtation.
We began writing poems back and forth. Eventually, he more or less wandered off , while I kept writing and thinking and contemplating and pondering about how much I enjoyed desire itself. Gradually I realized that Rumi was talking about desire as being the ultimate God connection not the act of sex. It is desire not consummation that invigorates mind, soul and body. Longing itself is infinite; more infinitely delicious than any getting. Desire outweighs consummation.
Me and Mr. Jones
We perch at our tiny table
sharing cabernet and gimlets, I gaze.
You talk and talk ‑ it all makes sense,
reflects my own musing, mingles
with the perfect pitch of a tenor sax.
But I have walked this path before
in other shoes and I see ghosts
pacing the walls, huddled waiting
in the corner of the red leather couch.
Though flame flickers sweetly between us
turning your white shirt cream, dappling
your beautiful neck with gold,
though your blue eyes turn navy
dilating with desire, eventually
we must go home again.
And then there’s this: fulfillment
nullifies desire, collapses possibilities,
concretizes fantasy, defines the dream.
I prefer the swoops and darts of Eros,
synchronistic meetings, unplanned rendezvous
Karma, tossing her gauntlet over a rainbow
time and time again.
The most wonderful thing about coming into spiritual relationship with desire – longing doesn’t fade. Once you give up getting, the sky remains more intensely blue, the breeze more intensely present – each touch magnified, every sense amplified. A poet’s dream…