Learning How to Make Love, by Denise Duhamel

This couple couldn’t figure it out. 
The man licked his wife’s genitals while she stared straight ahead. 
The woman poked her husband’s testicles with her nose. 
The man put his toe in the folds of the woman’s vulva. 
The woman took the man’s penis under her armpit. 
Neither one of them wanted to be the first to admit 
something was off. So it went on— 
the man put his finger in his wife’s navel. 
The woman batted her eyelashes against the arch of her husband’s foot. 
They pinched each other’s earlobes. They bit each other’s rear ends. 
To perpetrate the lie, they ended each encounter with a deep sigh. 
Then one day while the husband was hunting, 
a man stopped by the igloo and said to the wife: 
I hear you have been having trouble.
I can show you how to make love.
He took her to bed and left before the husband came home. 
Then the wife showed her husband, 
careful to make it seem like the idea sprang 
from both. After all these years of rubbing one’s face against the other’s belly 
or stroking a male elbow behind a female knee, 
this couple had a lot of catching up to do. They couldn’t stop to eat or sleep 
and grew so skinny they died. No one found them for a long time. 
And by then, their two skeletons were fused into one.

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Sex with a Famous Poet, by Denise Duhamel

I had sex with a famous poet last night
and when I rolled over and found myself beside him I shuddered
because I was married to someone else,
because I wasn’t supposed to have been drinking,
because I was in fancy hotel room
I didn’t recognize. I would have told you
right off this was a dream, but recently
a friend told me, write about a dream,
lose a reader and I didn’t want to lose you
right away. I wanted you to hear
that I didn’t even like the poet in the dream, that he has
four kids, the youngest one my age, and I find him
rather unattractive, that I only met him once,
that is, in real life, and that was in a large group
in which I barely spoke up. He disgusted me
with his disparaging remarks about women.
He even used the word “Jap”
which I took as a direct insult to my husband who’s Asian.
When we were first dating, I told him
“You were talking in your sleep last night
and I listened, just to make sure you didn’t
call out anyone else’s name.” My future-husband said
that he couldn’t be held responsible for his subconscious,
which worried me, which made me think his dreams
were full of blond vixens in rabbit-fur bikinis.
but he said no, he dreamt mostly about boulders
and the ocean and volcanoes, dangerous weather
he witnessed but could do nothing to stop.
And I said, “I dream only of you,”
which was romantic and silly and untrue.
But I never thought I’d dream of another man–
my husband and I hadn’t even had a fight,
my head tucked sweetly in his armpit, my arm
around his belly, which lifted up and down
all night, gently like water in a lake.
If I passed that famous poet on the street,
he would walk by, famous in his sunglasses
and blazer with the suede patches at the elbows,
without so much as a glance in my direction.
I know you’re probably curious about who the poet is,
so I should tell you the clues I’ve left aren’t
accurate, that I’ve disguised his identity,
that you shouldn’t guess I bet it’s him…
because you’ll never guess correctly
and even if you do, I won’t tell you that you have.
I wouldn’t want to embarrass a stranger
who is, after all, probably a nice person,
who was probably just having a bad day when I met him,
who is probably growing a little tired of his fame–
which my husband and I perceive as enormous,
but how much fame can an American poet
really have, let’s say, compared to a rock star
or film director of equal talent? Not that much,
and the famous poet knows it, knows that he’s not
truly given his due. Knows that many
of these young poets tugging on his sleeve
are only pretending to have read all his books.
But he smiles anyway, tries to be helpful.
I mean, this poet has to have some redeeming qualities, right?
For instance, he writes a mean iambic.
Otherwise, what was I doing in his arms.

The Threat, by Denise Duhamel

my mother pushed my sister out of the apartment door with an empty
suitcase because she kept threatening to run away  my sister was sick of me
getting the best of everything  the bathrobe with the pink stripes instead of
the red  the soft middle piece of bread while she got the crust  I was sick with
asthma and she thought this made me a favorite

I wanted to be like the girl in the made-for-tv movie  Maybe I’ll Come Home
in the Spring   which was supposed to make you not want to run away but it
looked pretty fun especially all of the agony it put your parents through and
the girl was in California or someplace warm with a boyfriend and they
always found good food in the dumpsters  at least they could eat pizza and
candy and not meat loaf  the runaway actress was Sally Field or at least
someone who looked like Sally Field as a teenager  the Flying Nun propelled
by the huge wings on the sides of her wimple  Arnold the Pig getting drafted
in Green Acres my understanding then of Vietnam  I read Go Ask Alice and
The Peter Pan Bag  books that were designed to keep a young girl home  but
there were the sex scenes and if anything this made me want to cut my hair
with scissors in front of the mirror while I was high on marijuana but I
couldn’t inhale because of my lungs  my sister was the one to pass out
behind the church for both of us  rum and angel dust

and that’s how it was   my sister standing at the top of all those stairs that
lead up to the apartment and she pushed down the empty suitcase that
banged the banister and wall as it tumbled and I was crying on the other side
of the door because I was sure it was my sister who fell  all ketchup blood and
stuck out bones  my mother wouldn’t let me open the door to let my sister
back in  I don’t know if she knew it was just the suitcase or not  she was cold
rubbing her sleeves a mug of coffee in her hand and I had to decide she said I
had to decide right then