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ISSUE 69: Beth Ann Fennelly's Ode to Ten Sexy Books

Reading on the Grass by Coral Silverman

The ten steamiest moments in Southern literature were harder to find than I’d imagined, leading me to realize that Southern sex tends toward the obscene or disturbing (removing—then stealing—a woman’s prosthetic leg in a hay loft? Making whoopee with a watermelon?), but here are some contenders:

10. Tennessee Williams’s A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE would be too easy. Instead, from THE GLASS MENAGERIE: “Somebody…somebody ought to—kiss you, Laura.”

9. “Cherrylog Road” by James Dickey: This one’s just good ol’ fashioned teenaged fun, as the speaker lies in wait in a junkyard’s broken-down car for that spunky little tramp Doris Holbrook. When she climbs in, says the speaker,

I held her and held her and held her,
Convoyed at terrific speed
By the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,

Then they leave, Doris down Cherrylog Road and the speaker roaring off on his motorcycle,

Drunk on the wind in my mouth
Wringing the handlebar for speed,
Wild to be wreckage forever.

8. Barry Hannah (R.I.P., pal). In “Love Too Long,” from AIRSHIPS: “I want to sleep in her uterus with my foot hanging out.”

7. Kevin Young’s “Ode to My Sex”:

Like France,
it leans left.

Like that Tower
in Italy, its shadow
covers the city…

The poem ends,

Mercurious, it rises,
falls, a god
both liquid

and solid.

Gents, take note: smart and funny, not six-pack abs, equals sexy. Exhibit B from the same book, 2008’s DEAR DARKNESS: “Short End Blues,” which pleads,

Devour me like marrow
After kiss me quick

Go on & swallow my sweet marrow
Kiss me to the quick

When we love let’s leave of each
other’s bones only milk

Young’s poems will make you horny and hungry.

6. Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, published in 1937. Sixteen-year-old Janie gets in trouble for kissing Johnny Taylor over the gate post, but how could she have helped it when she spent the whole day engaged in elaborate foreplay with a blooming pear tree? Janie “saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.” Mercy.

5. Ellen Gilchrist’s Rhoda stories; the sassy and turbulent character usually ends up with the wrong man: “And it’s so sexy, so fucking wonderful and sexy.”

4. A late, slightly surreal Eudora Welty story called “No Place for You, My Love” finds two nameless out-of-towners at a lunch party at Galatoire’s who then leave New Orleans to drive “south of South” to where bayou country ends in the Gulf. The landscape they see from their rented convertible is charged with sex, right down to the fecundity of coupling “wagons, trucks, boats in trucks, autos, boats on top of autos.”

3. 1979’s SUTTREE by Cormac McCarthy. Suttree is drifting around Tennessee and is camping by a river when he starts hanging out with his new business partner’s daughter. “She traced her cool fingertips along his nape and he turned and squinted at her. Sunlight swarmed on the water. That’s going to get you screwed, he said. She knelt forward and ran her velvet tongue between his lips. She smelled of soap and woodsmoke. Tasted of salt.” Puts me in the mood to go camping.

2. Then there’s that naughty little tale “The Storm” by Kate Chopin, written in 1898 but not printed until 1969, a fact that makes sense when you read it. Calixta’s husband and son are in town, so she’s home alone when a huge storm brews. Who should be happening to ride by on his horse but Calixta’s former suitor, Alcée? He helps her remove the washing from the line and steps inside to escape the rain. As the storm builds around them, so do their passions. To Alcée, Calixta’s “lips seemed in a manner free to be tasted, as well as her round, white throat and her whiter breasts.” Taste he does as the storm crescendos; finally, they are spent, and outside, “the sun was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems.” Alcée leaves and returns to his wife, and Calixta’s family comes home. The best part? Calixta isn’t seized with shame. There is no scarlet letter, unwanted pregnancy, or emotional scar. The lovers return to their marriages re-energized and sated. How’s this for a subversive ending: “So the storm passed and everyone was happy.”?

1. Let’s end with Faulkner, my hometown letch: from THE HAMLET, with the schoolteacher Labove tortured with lust for his student, the young and indolent Eula. Overcome one afternoon, he waits until she leaves the schoolhouse, then rushes to her wooden chair to sniff it. Hubba Hubba. And: Ewwwww.

"Reading on the Grass" (2009) by Coral Silverman.

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