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  • Love Poems:I Thought About the Body and the Body Thought About Me
  • Nathan Kemp (bio)

I want to kiss every brown-haired girl in this classroom but none will kiss me. The teenage teasing, gossip, giggling — all more exciting for them. I just want to feel someone touch me. I’m forced into a box with no sensory stimulation. Both the mudtracks leading up to my seventh grade health class and this bodily restraint feel unnatural. I remember dreaming about the room, imagining a new kind of box with male genitalia on the walls — not posters, but actual penises. From then on, phallic symbols everywhere: the shower rod, that one pillow on my parents’ couch, the school bus that picks me up every weekday. Surrounded by reminders of the body, I had decided to celebrate it, regardless of any societal pressures against such celebration. I remember seeing the poetry expressed by the frank exploration of the female form and then the male form during those formative years.

My appreciation for form has stayed and Anne Sexton’s Love Poems takes me back to that honest beginning. Her speaker glorifies the sexual self and creates a sense that the intense emotion that comes from physical beauty can hold unlimited power. The poems reject the notion of ordinary love poems by acknowledging that lust can be enough to inspire true desire, to engage the brain in dynamic fashion. The speaker’s initial highs and following lows echo my excitement and frustration from my own adolescent seasoning. I am Sexton’s rejected lover, open to emotional trauma and regret, but only because I had been yearning first.

In “The Breast,” the speaker says that her breast is just a “Jug of milk! It was [his] years ago / when [she] lived in the valley of [her] bones” (13-14). In a time of unfulfilled feminist ideals, the speaker calls her breast what it is — a feature on her body. In my abstinence-oriented classroom, I had been told that the breast is either the object the infant sucks or the forbidden piece under the brassiere, under the blouse.

Undefined, up to interpretation. As a rookie on a team of sexual veterans, I was living in a valley of my own bones, waiting for an opportunity to share the human form under the comforter of another, lights turned off.

At the time, I was not ready for anything I wanted — the keys to my own car, Lauren the Cheerleader, or boat shoes. Like the speaker’s hand in “The Touch,” I “was fat and soft and blind in places. / Nothing but vulnerable” [End Page 79] (17-18). I desired an awakening, not knowing the difference between how I could use a condom and how I could place a down payment on a condominium by the sandstone fire station on the Cook Road Extension. The problems, I thought, were “only in my head, my head,” as were the pick-up lines I repeated around Sexton-like women that I likely had no chance with on a date, let alone in the back seat of my borrowed 2007 Honda CRV (39). I like to think that my maturation began when I realized that my mother’s SUV was doing me no favors in fulfilling my flesh-based desire.

Maybe I’d walk for miles and ride trains and hitchhike — where able — like Jack Kerouac. I’d pick up another blade of grass and understand that it’s like a flower and that a flower is like a woman’s inner sanctum. Maybe I’d just listen to Pat Benatar again, so I could feel like the one who controls the blade on the noose. Heartbreak was written on the inside of my safety-orange locker, somehow rusting in a temperature-controlled environment. I, too, was rusting through, even though I spent most of my time in a temperature-controlled environment. I wasn’t orange.

In “The Kiss,” the speaker states, “Before today my body was useless. / Now it’s tearing at its square corners” (6-7). After reading those lines in Love Poems, I am taken back to my first kiss, my first lips-on-lips...


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pp. 79-82
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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