Oct. 13, 2007

Sex Ed

by Betsy Sholl

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Poem: "Sex Ed" by Betsy Sholl, from The Red Line. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sex Ed

Well-dressed, demure, jammed into those
politely arranged desks, it's hard to be
serious, but we are. No one even parts lips
to acknowledge what used to drive us crazy
in the back seats of cars, what kept us up
half the night reliving the last slow dance,
girl on her toes, guy bent at the knees
to press in against her.

The instructors speak precisely about
the importance of our children knowing the facts,
so surely none of us in our high heels and
neck ties is going to admit how our first mistakes
have suddenly blossomed so tender and lovely
we've been forgiven a thousand times,
a thousand times forgiven and repeated ourselves.

But fingering the graffiti on this desk,
I remember being braille to you, being read
like a steamy novel, and how those lessons
stayed with us, practical as driver's ed, those hours
of simulation behind the wheel of a parked car.
The truth is I don't regret having studied with you
though I do feel inarticulate, like an athlete
asked to speak in a room of kids, who has nothing
to say except, "practice, practice."

Once our daughter watched the cat in heat
yowl and slither across the floor, and without
looking up asked, would that happen to her. Sometimes
it isn't shame that makes us speechless. It's not
regret that makes me linger at the curb watching
her toss back her yellow hair and yank open
the heavy doors to school.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1792 that the cornerstone was laid for the American presidential residence, now known as the White House. George Washington thought the first design for the house was too fancy, so he got an Irish-born architect named James Hoban to reduce the design to a fifth of its original size, but it was still the largest house ever built in the United States at that time.

It's the birthday of the poet and translator Richard Howard, (books by this author) born in Cleveland, Ohio (1929), who started out as a poet and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his book Untitled Subjects (1969). His collection Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963–2003 came out in 2004. But he's also known for his translations — more than 150 books, most of them from the French, including The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire, which won Howard a National Book Award for translation in 1984. He said, "The relationship of the translator to the writer is an erotic relationship always, and you learn something about the person that you're working with in an almost plastic, physical way that you can almost never learn about your friends."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Conrad Richter, (books by this author) born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania (1890), who moved to New Mexico in the hope that his wife's heath would improve, and while he was there he became interested in the history of the Southwest, began traveling around interviewing older men and women and gathering old record books, newspapers, letters, and diaries of the early pioneers. After five years of research, he wrote a book about the Southwestern settlers called Early Americana and Other Stories (1936), and went on to write many more books, including a trilogy about frontier life in Ohio: The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Paul Simon, (albums by this musician) born in Newark, New Jersey (1941), who got a part in as the White Rabbit in a sixth-grade production of Alice In Wonderland. A boy named Art Garfunkel played the Mad Hatter, and the two became friends, started a singing duo, and they made a hit record when they were only 16 years old. But Simon decided he didn't want to be a pop star. He was more interested in folk music. He and Garfunkel recorded their first folk album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, in 1964, and it only sold a few thousand copies. They figured their career was probably over. But without their knowledge, a record producer added electric guitars to their song "The Sounds of Silence" and released it as a single. They had just moved back in with their parents and they were sitting in Simon's car one night, wondering what to do next, when they heard the new single come on the radio, and the DJ said it had gone to number one. Simon has since written many classic songs including, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970), "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" (1975), and "Graceland" (1986).

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