I got a try-out for a swimming part in a film and found myself alone in the pool, playing basketball, making every shot. A woman appeared, slim and beautiful, and fouled me, keeping her hand on mine, and then I was trying to get the ball, and her suit was undone. More people arrived and I began to forget my lines, and was told as much in the long debrief, that I had started well and then lost momentum, and that there might be a next time once the group went on tour in Australia and New Zealand. I found my father, long dead, having a cigarette on the back patio and couldn’t understand what he was doing there. “I stay up to 11:00 every once in a while.” The dog was there too, and I confessed that it could speak, saying the same thing again and again: “Smoking again?” I felt bad about him being dead, stealing his wife, because she was so beautiful and now all mine.
Ah. (Pause) When I was young somebody told me, are you ready? The rich copulate less often than the poor. But when they do, they take more of their clothes off. Years. Years, mind you, I would compare experiences of my own to this dictum, saying, aha, this fits the norm, or ah, this is a variation from it. What did it mean? Nothing.
Yes, I knew I was asleep, well, mostly anyway, but I didn’t understand why I would have ever taken another French class and not go to class, being only one credit short, and then forget to start my final project and put myself in a situation where her leg was across my shoulder, her breast peaking out. I mean, I was smart enough to get out of there, but I couldn’t get that muddle out of my head because she looked like someone I knew, even with my eyes open and the clock right there, and I had to pee, but I didn’t want to, needing sleep, so that I wouldn’t miss my french class again.
I am the honored one and the scorned one/I am the whore and the holy one/I am the wife and the virgin/I am the mother and the daughter…(6) This Sumerian poem, written hundreds of years before the rise of Greek civilization, begins Qualls-Cotbett’s The Sacred Prostitute, an academic look at the ancient rites of female sexuality.
The idea of female power and of the sacred prostitution is an anathema to the sexual politics of the past three thousand years, an idea expressed succinctly by Pythagoras: “There is a good principle, which has created order, light and man; and there is a bad principle, which has created chaos, darkness and women.” According to Qualls-Cotbett, it wasn’t always like this. Sacred rites of sexuality were a foundation to ancient civilizations: “The sacred prostitute leads the stranger to the couch prepared with white linens and aromatic myrtle leaves. She has rubbed sweet-smelling wild thyme on her thighs. The divine element of love resides in her. The stranger is transformed.” (23) Prostitution was not a heinous act conducted behind a veil of darkness and violence, but instead “nature and fertility were the core of existence. Desire and sexual response experienced as a regenerative power were recognized as a gift or a blessing of the divine. Great Mother was the goddess of all fertility.” (31) Much of modern-day attitudes toward female sexuality comes from the Bible and Koran, where the concepts are not so far from these ancient ideas: “She is the breath of the power of God, a pure effluence flowing from the glory of the Almighty.” (105) And yet, the dichotomy in today’s Calvinist/Capiltalistic world remains as strong as ever, reviling and adoring women solely on their sexuality, secreting the act of sex to one of shame, promoting pornography, defiling our scared selves.
Extract from 1997 novel, Black Ice:
Cam liked the animal shows, the cheetahs and whales, the lemurs and cougars, living in the open, in the forest, on the Savannah, in the depths of the dark sea, with nothing to hang on to but themselves, cut out raw, everything a meal or a monster around them, instinct not a word, but inside them, alive. He made a bet with himself: Six blonde women – it didn’t matter what they looked like – just six on one circuit up through the channels, and then he could delay everything, just sit there; he wouldn’t have to turn it off. Six blondes, six different channels. He had one on the first try, a sit-com, and another two channels one up – a newscaster. And then nothing. He slowed, waited for the camera to cut to her. But it was all car racing and gardening shows. Then he had another – a paramedic. And then nothing again. Too many old men, talking heads, and that was it. He had to get back to work.
The house was long and bright, a small tour being conducted as I came home.
“What longitudinal line does the house bisect?” The guide smiled briefly, waiting only a moment before conducting the group through the sculpture gallery. “Originals, everything is an original.” My clothes were missing from some shelves, moved to a downstairs room still under construction. That’s where she was, my wife, unpacking my things. I thought of just staying there, waiting for all of this to come around to a sensible point, but gathered my wits and caught up to her before her next meeting. “I need just ten minutes.”
A loose-suited man stood beside her. “I need the same.”
Her look was reserved as she glanced between us and then back at him. “Would you like to look at the garden? Why don’t I take you out to look at that?”
“We won’t have time then?” I stuttered.
She was already leaving. “We can schedule something for next week.”
I followed them down to the train, past a half naked man engaged in a complicated ritual, artistic or personal I didn’t understand. “Henry, we’ve talked about bringing your friends.” She turned to the loose-suited man. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”
I thought that it was but had been left at the top of the stairs.