For women must be earned
and women must be learned.
—Paul Ruffin

1. Earned
From the beginning she didn’t make it easy,
the first girl I didn’t have the nerve to kiss
and who one moonlit evening on Mearns Avenue
kissed me—decisively, violently, her lips
sharp and hard against mine. Even so,
she loved the chase and it went on. One night,
knowing I was lying low in the back row
she made it her mission to make out with Philip K.
who was more manly than I could imagine
myself ever being, his sixteen-year-old body
sculpted like that of the hero doing his heroic thing
on the silver screen towering over the first-row seat
in which they were getting it on, she every once
in a while looking over her shoulder to see if I
was watching. I was, in that theatrical dark
wrapping myself around misery the way I did
my mouth around the Juicy Fruits I was sucking on.
2. Learned
Menopause turns out to be a lengthy pause,
and I’m left wondering what it will be like
when we get around to marital bliss again.
Will it be our usual much practiced kaboom,
or a starting-over fizzle? After twenty-five years
how can there possibly be a Big Surprise,
or any surprise at all for that matter? Once
you ride a bike you never forget, and we
each know how to ride each other’s body,
how to downshift for the steep contours
and how to ratchet up, how to go like hell.
We’re pros, and we know exactly what to expect
from ourselves and from each other. Over the years
we’ve had our share of bliss, and when,
after this mother of all layoffs our patience
learns its just reward, we’ll know enough to take
it easy, to stop all wondering, to head for cover.