The Dream of the Pussy
by Nin Andrews
I was reading John Ashbery’s poem “The Instruction Manual” when I decided to write my own poem about an instruction manual, only I called it “The Handbook” to make it less obvious I was copying Ashbery, whom I love so much.
I especially love how he dreamt of writing in Guadalajara, a city with a name like a Mexican dance. Outside of his window, he said, a band is playing Sheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, and girls are handing out rose- and lemon-colored flowers.
So I wrote that I was in Berkeley, California, sitting at a café called the Musical Offering, listening to Mozart sonatas while eating melted brie topped with honey and spring greens on a whole wheat baguette. An Asian girl was sitting at the table across from me, sipping jasmine tea. She was so young and pretty, her hair a river of black silk, I imagined her as one of the flower girls in Ashbery’s poem. But instead of a striped dress, she was wearing a T-shirt with the words Vagina Day emblazoned in pink letters across her breasts.
Even a vagina has its day in Berkeley, California, I thought, but I wondered what a vagina would do on its day. Look for a bite to eat? Go shopping? Relax with friends? I suddenly realized how old I am. Days pass when my vagina doesn’t want to be bothered anymore. And the word, vagina, makes me wince. I picture a white room with a nurse and a pair of latex gloves, metal stirrups for my feet. The nurse is saying, This will be just a little pressure.
Define a little please, I shudder, and think how I would never wear a shirt with the words Vagina Day on it. A girl has to have a lot of nerve to wear a shirt like that.
But then a group of girls entered the café, and I noticed they were all wearing vagina shirts. Some wore vagina sweat shirts and sweat pants, too. Giggling, teasing and pushing one another, they were like a team. Team Vagina Girls. They were all in such a festive mood, I wished I could join in the fun. I wanted to ask if they thought other words would work in place of vagina. Words like cunt and pussy for women like me, women who don’t like the word vagina.
In her poem “I Knew I’d Sing,” Heather McHugh said the word, cunt, has teeth in it. That’s why she likes it better than the word vagina. Me, I prefer pussy. Pussy, is all sweetness and lips. I can easily imagine a pussy that speaks softly and ponders the universe. After years of practice, the pussy attains inner peace. Maybe it even levitates. Or looks down at us, as if from above, and dreams. Maybe we are all but a dream of the pussy.
A pussy like Guadalajara, the city Ashbery compared to a rose-colored flower. A city that has seen young love, married love, and even aging love. What next? Ashbery asks at the end of his poem. What more is there to do, except stay? And that we cannot do. He’s right of course. No one stays in a pussy forever. Or in a dream of Guadalajara. Even if the pussy had a day, the day would pass. Alas. So I turn back to my poem, “The Handbook.” I think how it has made me dream of the pussy.
Another new essay by Nin Andrews: Casual Business Attire
Nin Andrews is the editor of a book of translations of the French poet Henri Michaux entitled Someone Wants to Steal My Name, published by Cleveland State University Press. She is also the author of six chapbooks and five poetry collections. Her next book, Why God Is a Woman, is forthcoming from BOA Editions. (8/2013)