Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I’m writing in response to Renée Lertzman’s criticism of my poem “Ejaculation” [March 1993]. She complained that it is “gender specific” and “phallocentric.”
I urge Lertzman to look up “ejaculate” in the dictionary. A specifically male definition is only one definition. It can also mean “to exclaim or utter suddenly,” which both sexes can do.
Even if we focus on the sexual connotation of “ejaculation,” the word can still be relevant to female sexuality. When a woman is in the throes of orgasm, she can be ejaculating as much as — and often more than — a man in the sense of exclaiming delirious endearments, or suddenly and swiftly “discharging” large amounts of energy known as ecstasy.
I find it disturbing that a woman would denounce my poem even if it were gender specific. Are lesbian love poems too gender specific? To try to ban the male member from art or literature, just because some men have acted as molesters or rapists, is no better than if men tried to do the reverse because an equal percentage of men had been victimized by women. After centuries of being persecuted and suppressed by post-Greco-Roman, puritanical Judeo-Christianity, the cock and balls will never again allow themselves to be castrated from literature, or even fig-leaf’d.
My poem isn’t strictly phallocentric, but if it were, wouldn’t it be foolish to criticize a poem focused on the phenomenon of the phallus for being phallocentric? Poems can focus on any and all phenomena and necessarily are “centric” to whatever subject the particular poem is about. Do we complain that poems about flowers are “flower centric” or claim they “celebrate a flower-centric culture”? Lertzman puts down the phenomenon of ejaculation and orgasm as “quick, gasping, and fleeting” — word choices that could instead be “intense, fervent, and overwhelming.”
How many men would dare to criticize a woman’s perception of the female principle inherent in all creation as “vagina centric”? There’s a male principle in nature and the universe too. It’s OK if some poems focus just on the yin and others focus just on the yang and still other poems focus on the interplay of both. I think my poem embraces and honors both more than Lertzman gave it credit for. I wish more women had a sense of humor and tolerance regarding the male reproductive organ, which is mostly rather poignant, harmless, and small, despite how large it may loom in the fantasies of men and women alike.
I agree with Sy Safransky [“Hero with a Thousand Faces,” March 1993] that it is time for the hero to face the bad guys. I don’t agree that Bill Clinton has to be our hero. His job description is consistent with the office he sought: president, not savior.
I said yes to John Kennedy’s challenge in the sixties and joined VISTA, my youthful idealism intact, believing that I could take up arms against a host of evils and, together with my disenfranchised siblings, win. John Kennedy’s legacy was not in his heroism but in his trickle-down hope.
But for the last twenty-five years, I’ve been hiding out. I got confused by materialism and myopic about minding my own business. The effect of isolationism on me is not good.
When Clinton sounded notes of change, I believed him. But I did not believe that Clinton was the hero we were awaiting. Maybe it is time for me again to join the nation in seeing what I might do to bring about the changes that make us kinder, more loving, safer, better able to live on this planet.
OK, you win. I receive so many magazines I saw no reason to continue taking The Sun. I requested you cancel my subscription. But the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh [“At War with Ourselves,” March 1993] were worth the price of a subscription alone.
I remember crying as I explained the Iraqi war to my seven-year-old daughter. She does not often see me weep. I knew others who opposed the Iraqi war, but very few. Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple statement, “They reminded me that many Americans also suffered when the president gave the order to attack,” touched me deeply and confirmed that I had not been alone in the depth of my feeling. It was a revelation. “I don’t think I will go to America this spring,” Thich Nhat Hanh said. “I really don’t want to go there now.” To rediscover that people like this exist, that they also despair and need reminders from others, is tremendously reassuring and reinvigorating.
Please disregard my previous attempt to cancel.
I found it ironic that the essay “Homeless, but Not Crazy” by Keith Russell Ablow was followed immediately by Thich Nhat Hanh’s “At War With Ourselves” [March 1993]. It seems the solution to Dr. Ablow’s “nagging guilt” might be in Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement: “When we see someone suffering, if we touch her with compassion, she will receive our comfort and love, and we will also receive comfort and love. We can do the same when we ourselves are suffering.”
I was deeply touched by Dr. Ablow’s predicament, and I realize that seldom are choices black or white. I also know that intellectual justifications for our actions are too readily accepted by society. As individuals, we are limited in what we can do for those in pain, but sometimes we are given an opportunity to show compassion to one person in need. Many times that is all we can do, and we need to say, “Let it begin with me,” if our humanity is to survive in this “modern” world.
My friend Patrick is no ordinary friend. He leaves rambling, Dr. Seuss-like poems on my voice-mail at work, tells me I’m beautiful when I’m feeling less so. He is the one who gave me a subscription to The Sun for Christmas.
When the first issue arrived, I read the Readers Write section voraciously, regretting that I’d missed such a wonderful topic: A Perfect Moment [March 1993]. After soaking up the last bit of sunshine coming in through the window, and wondering what I would have written as my perfect moment, I finally put the magazine down; it was time to stop daydreaming and get busy. Which is when I saw the mailing label:
10 MARYLAND AVE
BERKELEY CA 94707
I couldn’t help it. Filled with warmth, friendship, and affection for my friend miles away, I laughed out loud. A perfect moment.