BECAUSE EDEN, FROM THE HEBREW, MEANT PLEASURE
and lived on in the moment of arousal
when a surge of noradrenalin
flooded the amygdala, the teacher
put a condom on a banana. Inside
each girl, he said, was a wall of shuddering
muscle and an egg that each month
dropped like a red gumball from the vending
machine outside the liquor store. Semen,
he said, was a protein matrix
that could keep alive millions of almost-
babies or a virus that could nest
in your blood. He showed us
pictures of men with sunken faces,
skin gouged with sores. Adam
and Eve, he said, not Adam and Steve.
The boys who laughed loudest
chucked rocks at the church bell beyond
which acres thrummed with the brain
chemistry of the corn field.
There was lightning, the teacher said,
in our testicles, coyotes in our blood.
At the 4-H fair, Nick kissed me
outside the calving tent, his face at night
the face of all the boys. If I reached out,
I could touch it as gently as I’d once
pulled a fishhook from my
shivering calf. We could hear hooves
in the stables, look past each other
into the woods. Soon, we knew
the heifers would be slaughtered,
the tents torn down. For now: saw dust.
For now: stars punched effortless
through sky. In the dark, he drew
a bird on his palm with a ballpoint pen,
moved his hand to make it fly.
This poem began as two poems, the first half inspired by one of my junior high school teachers, who punished misbehaving boys by forcing them to stand in front of the class and hold hands. He loved to say: “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” which for a closeted gay kid like myself carried a particular sting. He was also responsible for showing the sixth-grade boys the school district’s Health and Sexual Development video, which taught that sexual intercourse occurred between a man and a woman for the purpose of reproduction. I wrote the first half of this poem because I was drawn to the tensions bound up in this memory, as well as my recollections of the safe sex demonstrations we had in high school during the height of the AIDS epidemic. I was especially interested in how these events brought together different kinds of origin stories—personal, biological, Biblical. Then, as often happens, the poem stalled. I wasn’t sure how to move beyond my initial impulses, so I put the draft aside.
Almost a year later, I came across the poem in a pile that also contained another failed poem, a simple scene about the erotic tension between me and another boy at the 4-H Fair when I was fifteen. I’d originally abandoned it because it seemed too anecdotal, nothing significant beyond the facts of the memory itself. When I considered that scene in the context of the first failed poem, the moment took on a new charge, seeming to suggest something about the redeeming persistence of pleasure. By combining the two failed poems, I wound up with a third and, to my mind, better one. It felt like another example of Robert Frost’s famous dictum—no discovery for the writer, no discovery for the reader. I’ve always found that the more I start out thinking I understand what I’m writing about, the more likely I am to write a bad poem. The trick is to get stuck or lost or stumble across some problem I can’t quite solve; those problems become opportunities. My writing process has always been about finding new ways to make that happen.