by Nin Andrews
The Shadow of the Orgasm
after James Tate's “The Shadowman"
You see it, or think you do. Or is it only a shadow? The shadow of the orgasm. But what is that? A dream? A memory? Of someone who loved you once upon a time? Then again, maybe you don’t see it at all. Nevertheless, you approach it gingerly. But it slinks away like a cat. Orgasms do that, you think. They’re afraid of you coming too close, too fast, pulling their tails or dunking them in cold water. It’s okay, you want to say. But something wells up in you. Tears, for example. And suddenly you want to run towards it, waving your naked arms, shouting, but instead you stand as still as a statue, feigning disinterest. It stops, too. You sing to it, softly, let it approach, whiskers twitching. Just as you reach out, the thing bites you. Hard. Blood trickles down your wrist. I’m sorry, it says, I thought you weren’t real! It begins licking you apologetically with its tiny pink tongue.
I do not know French
after Michael Palmer’s “I Do Not”
I do not know French.
Though I have tried to learn it, to decipher it word by word, letter by letter, and accent grave by accent aigu by accent circumflex—but the cedilla is the one I like best. And yet I do not know French, and everyone knows the orgasm only speaks French and always prefers an o who has been circumflexed.
Thus, when lonesome, I can only gesture to the opposite sex. Such gestures are not always welcome. Many times I’ve been rebuffed. Even when the answer was, Oui, oui, s’il vous plait, oui, by which I think she means, wrap your arms around my neck, I have hesitated. And feared what is next. All because I do not know French.
Thus I do not know if I should speak freely of my past failures at sex. How I have felt like a tightrope walker with no safety net, a woman trying to catch a fish with bare hands, a man trying to hit a bird with a bat. Oh, I know nothing. Not even how I should dress. Or undress.
Nor do I know what the orgasm means when she sings. Or if the names she calls me are insults or compliments. Names like Sacrebleu, Mon Dieu and Zut Alors. And if this sadness I feel when she leaves is hers? Or mine? Or yours? And if I should ask.
And why, when I think of her, I see only a single curl of her hair the color of apricots, and the nape of her white, white neck. A blush rising like a mist of red. And when I gaze into her eyes, why is her gaze so far away, and yet so close? Is that you or her I am looking at?
Oh my Love, I do not know French.
Nin Andrews’ poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies including Ploughshares, Agni, The Paris Review, and four editions of Best American Poetry. She is the author of 7 chapbooks and 6 full-length poetry collections. Her latest book, Miss August, was published by CavanKerry Press in 2017.