Conjunctions:48 Faces of Desire

From Intercourse
ADAM, 7, First Man
EVE, 7, First Woman, His Wife
On a patch of earth cleared of thorns and thistles, a little east of Eden, the first day after the new moon of the fourth month of the eighth year after Creation


the dust of the ground rises around us as we move and clench and thrash, and the Creator’s vast dark face fades and the woman grows slick and the dust turns to mud, and in the distance to the west I hear the trees stirring from a sweet breeze, but here the air is still, save for our breath, we are a great wind now ourselves, the two of us, we are rushing across the face of the earth and all that we left behind was good, but behold, naked is good too, and I named the animals one by one, the Creator brought them and I named them, and again I have some naming to do—of these parts of her I am seeing as if for the first time—but that will have to wait, I am a running river now and the names I already named will have to do: her two young fawns, her clam, her ass, which I ride


I was happy but to tangle the holding parts and the walking parts and lie here quietly in the clean space he has made for us, but he is pawing and fondling and crying out and whimpering and perhaps that is good too, like when he took the apple from me, he was quiet then and he is boisterous now but it is the same: I offer and he takes, and I had nothing to give the Creator and all that He gave was for the man, and a shadow fell on the path and something was there and it came forth hissing prettily and he said You’re not stupid and he was right and what he gave was sweet in me, but this man is not, he is flailing around and proud of his own little snake

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, 29, Poet and Playwright 
HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, 20, Third Earl of Southampton,
Courtier and Literary Patron  

in Shakespeare’s rooms in St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, London, 1593


proud Nature humbled by the work of its own hand: his azure eye, his auburn tress, the chest it hangs on white as the sun can seem when veiled in silken cloud, his silken doublet white as cloud cast off to bare the fire beneath, and if his heart be sun and his chest be sky then his eye be heaven and his earth below be forested lush around a great high oak that stands stripped clean of limbs from lightning strike: I give my limbs to this land and touch his beating heart and burn, and yet he is night as well as day, a well as well as tree, a well dug deep and dark and I send my vessel down: he is, in flesh, the world inconsonant made one: my young man, my dark lady


I soon will lie alone and he will cross the room and sit at his table and once again he will take up his goose quill and find it blunt and take up his knife and bend and squint and turn slightly to the light from the window and begin his sweet circumcision, playing at the tip with the blade, making it less blunt, then sharp, then sharper still, and he will pause and touch the tip to his tongue and he will pull the ink pot nearer to him and dip the pen, dip it deep, the tip growing wet and dark, and he will withdraw and let it drip and drip till it stops, and then he will bend to his paper and his words will come and the tiny scratch of his quill will shudder its way up my thighs and I am pen and I am ink and I am his words

GEORGE HERMAN “BABE” RUTH, 21, Baseball Player

in the Chambre Rouge at Lulu White’s all-octoroon Mahogany Hall, Storyville, New Orleans, 1916


a bat in my hands, a hickory bat, long and heavy and the color of tobacco spit, and I’m about to hit my first one and it’s little Jack Warhop on the mound throwing his rise ball and it’s the third inning in the Polo Grounds, and say but I’m swell at last, it’s fine for me breaking off curves on the corner of the plate, but try to slip one by me with my bat in my hand and see what I can do, and here I am now in a fancy bed with a girl with a bit of darkness about her like me and she might as well see it all, she might as well see what I can do, and the same for all you girls in all the fancy rooms and in all the cheap cribs in Storyville, I’m out of the goddamn boys’ home at last, out of St. Mary’s, through being an orphan with two parents working a tavern across town, and now Mom’s dead for real, and say, all that pussy upstairs in all the taverns on the Baltimore dock saw what I can do, and little Jack is standing sixty feet away and he gives me a look like he knows something about me from St. Mary’s, and he does, a name they had for my ugly mug, he’s been talking to some Baltimore mope or other cause I was putting away half a dozen weenies with chili sauce under the grandstand before the game and little Jack strolls by and he says, real low, Nigger lips, but I let it pass, because this is how you get it back: your feet close together and your right shoulder swung around to him and the bat sitting easy on your left shoulder nuzzled in the crook of your neck and he winds and throws, and his rise ball is what he’s got that says I don’t belong where I am, and I can see the ball spinning, I can count the stitches, and what I do starts in my stomach, it starts in the center of me right there and it flows easy into my arms and hips and legs and I hitch back and glide on through and the groove is there and it’s sweeter than any pussy, me passing into this invisible place, and there’s a little push against the bat and a swell chunking sound and the ball is rushing off and up and up and it flies fast and far and farther still and it falls into the straw hats deep in the right-field stands and it’s my first home run and I am still feeling its kiss, it kissed me hard and wet right on my bat


he yawps and grunts, this overgrown boy, and of a sudden he cries Say but I’m swell and now is off to whooping again, but you’re not that swell I can tell you and I just try to hear beyond him, the piano trickling up from the parlor downstairs, Lulu has let a colored boy in tonight to play and he’s doing it fine and they’re down there dancing the ragtime one-step on the parquet floor, not the mudbuggers like this boy but the Americans from Uptown in evening clothes, and I could be doing it with them, doing what I really do: pulling the arm of a true swell around my waist and facing him a little off center and taking his left hand in my right and finding that easy-glide spot—our hands just a bit away from us and a little up from the waist, my right elbow slightly bent, my left hand cupping behind his right shoulder, my back straight upright, my heels together and my toes turned outward, perfect, like finding the lay of me in bed when I’m finally alone and can sleep—and tonight we’ll do the Castle Walk so I go up onto the balls of my feet and stiffen my legs and I pull ever so slightly with my palm behind his shoulder and with the tips of my fingers at the back of his hand and he doesn’t even know I’m leading and we’re off, stepping away long and smooth and quick around and around Lulu White’s whorehouse parlor and nobody does the one-step like Jo and it’s all for free

In addition to his thirteen novels, Robert Olen Butler has published six short story collections, one of which, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (Grove Press) won the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.