The looking without looking

Ruth doesn’t know this but a man in the café is watching her too. He has a sketchbook in front of him. He is drawing her outline. He is sketching her dramatic silhouette. A young girl pensive watching out the window. She is an unknown. He has discovered her. A beautiful sight. She has a beautiful figure, this slip of a girl. He wouldn’t mind poking her a bit with his pencil.

The rain has let up momentarily. She gazes at the top level of a double-decker bus stopped outside. The passengers seem unaware that they are being looked at, secure in being so high up from everything. They are in fact naked there, relaxing their tense city selves except for the small dramas of transport, the bumping and pushing and excuse-me’s, no pardon-me’s. The looking without looking. She catches a boy regarding himself in his reflection, shaking out a light caramel shag, a mustard scarf, a leather jacket the color of toffee. A bled-out brown. She meets his eyes boldly, safe within her bubble. I see you. I see you.

Kate Zambreno, Green Girl.

HIM

Moments ago she was on her stomach distractedly rubbing herself against the mattress. When she masturbates the face she usually conjures up first is her own. In her fantasies she is beautiful, more beautiful than what youth naturally lends her. But not only is she beautiful, in her fantasies she is beautiful through another’s eyes. Her fantasies are of being witnessed, of being watched. By HIM, the one she must banish from her thoughts but that she allows to star in these fairytales. She can feel his gaze upon her. But today she tries not to think about HIM, she thinks about Olly, with HIS face, or maybe the reverse, trying not to think about HIM so making HIM look like Olly….It wasn’t working. The only way she could get off, could ride herself to ecstasy dry humping herself on her bed was to resurrect the past starring HIM her episodic Lazarus, peeling off the Olly mask, yes it was HIM, HIM, HIM, gazing at her face like it was composed of stained glass, she allowed herself to remember his face, just one last time, but she was having trouble recalling it exactly. And if she remembered his face, if she could only remember his face…

She groans and rolls onto her back and picks up the magazine, lying underneath her.

Knock on the door. Insistent.

Come in. Feebly. It is Agnes, with her red lips still on, wanting to hang out.

They are in Agnes’ room. They sit on Agnes’ bed. Agnes’ walls are plastered with posters of actresses. Monica Vitti. Hanna Schygulla. Corinne Marchand. Anouk Aimée. Rita Hayworth. Agnes’ makeup kit is strewn across the bed. Ruth is trying on a dark blood stain which she thinks with her pale hair lends her a definitive Greta Garbo appeal. She admires her strange red lips in Agnes’ large mirror propped up against the bed, pursing them, pivoting her pale chin from side to side.

What do you think?

A demonstrative head shake from Agnes. Not you.

Ruth sighs, wipes with the back of her hand, and against her better judgment begins to confide in Agnes about the scene with the terrible girls in the toilet.

Kate Zambreno, Green Girl.

Agnes swirls out her red lipstick

Staring into the dull silver of the elevator doors Agnes swirls out her red lipstick, which she strokes firmly onto her lips, back and forth, a brick the same shade as her penciled-in Marlene Dietrich eyebrows, matching her china doll moon face framed by brazenly red hair carefully flipped up. Agnes’ hair color changed with her whims, more violent seasons than the city’s monochrome. It’s my signature she would say. For someone like Agnes it was important to have a signature. How else will she remember herself?

Kate Zambreno, Green Girl.

Why the narrator is masturbating

I masturbate throughout the day, so much that I pull a muscle in my writing hand, which makes me feel like Robert Walser. The herbs I’ve started taking to try to shrink the cyst make me unbelievably horny. I know, I masturbated five times this morning, Anna writes me. The summer recreation of the middle-aged woman novelist. I jump on John when he gets home from work, even though Genet protests with yelps when we are affectionate. Perhaps I think this will take the edge off my loneliness, which is severe in the summer. Or maybe my loneliness somehow is what makes me horny.

My editor later reads this above passage, and wants to inquire exactly why the narrator is masturbating. Is it to relieve excess creative energy, or because she has the time, or . . . ? I don’t really know what to say. She masturbates because she masturbates.

Kate Zambreno, Drifts.

The images were the sort of pornography that seemed designed for men who hate women

The year before, in that same office, I had repeatedly found pornography on the desktop of the shared computer. Seeing the pop-ups of naked women in various postures, I initially wondered whether they were left there by the other instructor I shared the space with when I was not on campus. Perhaps it was her research, as she was a sociologist, one of the other adjunct faculty who everyone assumes is more permanent than we are. The images were the sort of pornography that seemed designed for men who hate women. I imagined in turn that she was also suspicious, or curious, about me. I wonder if, as a resident of this city—and a partial resident of the city that is the internet—I have become almost numb to absurd or hostile encounters. I did wonder later whether the joke was on me specifically, if this pornography was left there for me, but that would take some awareness of me, or what I had written about. I never figured out if it was a form of targeted or general harassment, or what—masturbatory carelessness?

I finally said something to the woman who worked in the office downstairs, an awkward conversation I tried to laugh my way through. We were asked to lock the office afterward, and the password to the desktop was reset. When the French sociologist (she was French) was told, she apparently just made a face of distaste, I imagine in a very French way, and asked if there were antibacterial wipes we could use to wipe down the computer and the desk, since we both ate our lunches there. Which, upon hearing this, I felt was the right reaction—and wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.

Kate Zambreno, Drifts.

Trench as an outsized female organ ready to receive us

I WALKED FOR A LONG TIME through the fissures in the earth, carrying Mademba, heavy like a sleeping child, in my arms. An enemy target escaping notice under the light of the full moon, I arrived at the gaping hole that was our trench. Seen from a distance, our trench looked to me like the slightly parted lips of an immense woman’s sex. A woman, open, offering herself to war, to the bombshells, and to us, the soldiers. It was the first unmentionable thing I allowed myself to think. Before Mademba’s death, I would never have dared imagine such a thing, would never have thought of the trench as an outsized female organ ready to receive us, Mademba and me. The insides of the earth were outside, the insides of my mind were outside, and I knew, I understood that I could think anything I wanted to, on the condition that the others knew nothing of it. So I locked my thoughts back in my head after observing them from up close. Strange.

David Diop, At Night All Blood Is Black, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis.

The slippery wet thing with a hard pearly center, jammed in my face

Momentarily, she acted as if she intended to really ravage me, but it was a phoney growl. She didn’t know how. I must fuck Robin. That was my job. She had the largest … cunt, vagina I have ever stuck my finger in. It was big red and needy. I stuck two three fingers in and fucked her and fucked her. I’ve always received complaints that I was rough but I felt like I could have been shoving a stick up this woman, a branch. Her ass was up in the air, it was April and the trees were still pretty bare and I looked through the black rusty cross-hatched window gates of my East Village apartment and I felt detached and I fucked and fucked her with my hand, and twisting her nipples. She moaned and growled with pleasure. Such a woman, I have never met such a horny animal nor have I ever so distinctly serviced a woman before. Do you want my fist inside you. Anything she shrieked, anything.

So this is my late winter stolen landscape. Robin’s hungry butt bobbing in front of my window next to my desk where I write. I felt my home, myself, violated by this animal. I couldn’t stop. This must be what faggots do. The inside of her pussy was hot and warm, it did, it did feel like a live animal. I put my fingertip to her butt-hole but there didn’t seem to be any magic there. I was getting bored. Wanna come up on me. I wanted to be underneath—her pussy on my mouth. Sure, anything. I had no way of framing her true repertoire with these kind of replies. I suspected she had done everything in the past, or on the other hand maybe she was a liar.

Here it comes, the salty hairy organ, the slippery wet thing with a hard pearly center, jammed in my face. I started licking and sucking like crazy. I am wild for the sensation of having my face covered and dominated, almost smothered by a cunt. She was happy. It all seemed one to her, then a great groan and buckets of wet acrid fluid flooded into my mouth, splashing down my cheeks and onto my pillow. Initially I surmised she had come in some new way, but it was pee and now I had drank it for the first time. I swallowed some, but then no I don’t really want to drink piss. I wiped the edges of my mouth and then kissed her. I think she said I’m sorry but grinned at me wiping my face. Do you have any music she said. Take a look—the tapes are on the refrigerator. I lay on the bed, fascinated by the acrid taste of piss, yet horrified at the inadequacies of my tape collection. Da, duh-duh, Da, duh-duh came the opening notes of “Kimberly” and Robin walked naked across the length of my apartment like she was the real Patti Smith.

I think we tried to cram more into her pussy for a while after that and she gave my lips a quick swipe with her mouth, but I really suspected that was not her cup of tea. Because she was not a lesbian, nothing like that.

Do you have a towel? Actually I didn’t. Or I didn’t have a clean towel and I didn’t want to give her mine, out of a desire not to insult one of us. Finally I gave her a facecloth. I guess a towel’s a towel. I didn’t know what was going on. I’ve got to meet my girlfriend she explained. Today she had a girlfriend. A blow to the stomach, received in silence of course. I’m going out too I said. Well then come on, come with me to meet her. I did something in the kitchen sink, brushed my teeth, but I was feeling demolished.

Eileen Myles, Chelsea Girls.

Reclaim

While I do think the word “slut” should be reclaimed, I should be clear about what I mean by that. The word “reclaim” is associated with redemption—to reclaim is to recover, to reform, to civilize. That’s not exactly what the goal is with “slut,” at least in my opinion. We don’t want to simply reverse the idea of being a slut from being “bad” to being “good,” or from unacceptable to acceptable. There is something bad about being a slut—something naughty, controversial, and unpredictable—and I don’t think we should lose that. Men don’t have to be good, so why should women? The idea that female sexuality is entirely righteous, or that we have a better handle on controlling our sexuality than men, is a great societal delusion (and one that is sometimes perpetuated by feminism). To totally flip the meaning of “slut” into something that’s solely positive or empowering denies the darkness that’s inherent in slutdom, which is part of what makes it so sexy. Of course, we want to move toward a society where women aren’t slut-shamed and can express themselves without fear. But I think it’s possible to cultivate a society that permits healthy sexual exploration, while also maintaining the taboo and transgressive elements of slut life. Like, my goal isn’t to be good or normal or accepted. My goal is to be free. (And maybe also to troll society a bit in the process, for good measure).

Karley Sciortino, Slutever: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post-Shame World, 2018.

Ale jej uszy, ach, jej uszy…

Ale wolałbym opowiedzieć wam o jej uszach. Przeoczyłem je w klubie tenisowym, kiedy związywała włosy tamtą zieloną wstążką, pod kolor lamówki i guzików na sukience. A na co dzień nosiła włosy rozpuszczone, pofalowane na uszach i sięgające połowy szyi. Tak że dopiero kiedy znaleźliśmy się w łóżku, a ja zabrałem się do szperania i węszenia po całym jej ciele, w każdym zakamarku, w każdej nadmiernie i niedostatecznie zbadanej części, pochylony nad nią, odgarnąłem jej włosy i odkryłem uszy.

Nigdy wcześniej nie poświęcałem uszom zbyt wiele uwagi, widząc w nich tylko komiczne narośle. Dobre uszy to takie, których się nie zauważało; złe uszy sterczały jak skrzydła nietoperza lub były kalafiorowate po ciosie boksera, albo też –jak uszy tamtego wściekłego kierowcy przy przejściu dla pieszych –chropowate, czerwone i włochate. Ale jej uszy, ach, jej uszy… od dyskretnego, niemal nieistniejącego płatka łagodnym łukiem biegły do góry, ale potem w połowie drogi takim samym łukiem zawracały ku jej czaszce. Jakby zaprojektowano je raczej według jakiejś idei estetycznej, a nie zasad użyteczności słuchowej.

Kiedy zwracam jej na to uwagę, mówi:
– Pewnie są takie, żeby wszystkie te bzdury przelatywały obok i nie trafiały do środka.

Ale to nie wszystko. Kiedy badałem je czubkami palców, odkryłem, jak delikatna jest ich zewnętrzna krawędź: cienka, ciepła, łagodna, aksamitna, niemal półprzezroczysta. Wiecie, jak nazywa się po łacinie obrąbek ucha? Helix. Jak helisa. W liczbie mnogiej helisy. Uszy były częścią jej absolutnej wyjątkowości, uzewnętrznieniem jej DNA. Podwójna helisa jej helis.

Później, zastanawiając się, co mogła mieć na myśli, kiedy mówiła o „bzdurach”, które przelatują obok jej zadziwiających uszu, pomyślałem: cóż, oskarżenie o oziębłość –to wielka bzdura. Tyle że to słowo wpadło prosto do jej uszu, a stamtąd do mózgu, gdzie utkwiło na zawsze.

Julian Barnes, Jedyna historia, tłum. Dominika Lewandowska-Rodak, Warszawa 2018.

Bluets

1. Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession; suppose I shredded my napkin as we spoke. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then, one day, it became more serious. Then (looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a sea horse) it became somehow personal.

2. And so I fell in love with a color—in this case, the color blue—as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.

(…)

18. A warm afternoon in early spring, New York City. We went to the Chelsea Hotel to fuck. Afterward, from the window of our room, I watched a blue tarp on a roof across the way flap in the wind. You slept, so it was my secret. It was a smear of the quotidian, a bright blue flake amidst all the dank providence. It was the only time I came. It was essentially our lives. It was shaking.

19. Months before this afternoon I had a dream, and in this dream an angel came and said: You must spend more time thinking about the divine, and less time imagining unbuttoning the prince of blue’s pants at the Chelsea Hotel. But what if the prince of blue’s unbuttoned pants are the divine, I pleaded. So be it, she said, and left me to sob with my face against the blue slate floor.

(…)

42. Sitting in my office before teaching a class on prosody, trying not to think about you, about my having lost you. But how can it be? How can it be? Was I too blue for you. Was I too blue. I look down at my lecture notes: Heártbréak is a spondee. Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep.—Why doesn’t this help?

(…)

48. Imagine, for example, someone who fucks like a whore. Someone who seems good at it, professional. Someone you can still see fucking you, in the mirror, always in the mirror, crazy fucking about three feet away, in an apartment lit by blue light, never lit by daylight, this person is always fucking you from behind in blue light and you both always seem good at it, dedicated and lost unto it, as if there is no other activity on God’s given earth your bodies know how to do except fuck and be fucked like this, in this dim blue light, in this mirror. What do you call someone who fucks this way?

49. There is a color inside of the fucking, but it is not blue.

(…)

59. There are those, however, who like to look. And we have not yet heard enough, if anything, about the female gaze. About the scorch of it, with the eyes staying in the head. “I love to gaze at a promising-looking cock,” writes Catherine Millet in her beautiful sex memoir, before going on to describe how she also loves to look at the “brownish crater” of her asshole and the “crimson valley” of her pussy, each opened wide—its color laid bare—for the fucking.

(…)

61. In his book On Being Blue, William Gass argues that what we readers really want is “the penetration of privacy”: “We want to see under the skirt.” But his penetration is eventually tiresome, even to himself: “What good is my peek at her pubic hair if I must also see the red lines made by her panties, the pimples on her rump, broken veins like the print of a lavender thumb, the stepped-on look of a day’s-end muff? I’ve that at home.” After asserting that the blue we want from life is in fact found only in fiction, he counsels the writer to “give up the blue things of this world in favor of the words which say them.”

62. This is puritanism, not eros. For my part I have no interest in catching a glimpse of or offering you an unblemished ass or an airbrushed cunt. I am interested in having three orifices stuffed full of thick, veiny cock in the most unforgiving of poses and light. I will not choose between the blue things of the world and the words that say them: you might as well be heating up the poker and readying your eyes for the altar. Your loss.

(…)

90. Last night I wept in a way I haven’t wept for some time. I wept until I aged myself. I watched it happen in the mirror. I watched the lines arrive around my eyes like engraved sunbursts; it was like watching flowers open in time-lapse on a windowsill. The tears not only aged my face, they also changed its texture, turned the skin of my cheeks into putty. I recognized this as a rite of decadence, but I did not know how to stop it.

91. Blue-eye, archaic: “a blueness or dark circle around the eye, from weeping or other cause.”

92. Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping—its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)

(…)

134. It calms me to think of blue as the color of death. I have long imagined death’s approach as the swell of a wave—a towering wall of blue. You will drown, the world tells me, has always told me. You will descend into a blue underworld, blue with hungry ghosts, Krishna blue, the blue faces of the ones you loved. They all drowned, too. To take a breath of water: does the thought panic or excite you? If you are in love with red then you slit or shoot. If you are in love with blue you fill your pouch with stones good for sucking and head down to the river. Any river will do.

Maggie Nelson, Bluets, 2009.