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KGB Reading Series

"The Other Sestina" [by Janice Erlbaum]

Beap_2Janice Erlbaum participated in the group reading we did for "The Best American Erotic Poems" at KGB Bar on March 10. 2008. She read her sestina ("The Temp") from the book, but time constraints stopped her from reading a second sestina, which she has posted on her own blog and which you will find below, along with a few prefatory sentences from Ms. Erlbaum.
-- DL

The "Other" Sestina by Janice Erlbaum

Janice Erlbaum at KGB Bar March 10, 2008

Because I am fanatical about not running over my alloted time at readings, especially when there are nine other people on the bill, I didn't read this other sestina, which I'm dying to read in public, especially after it was rejected by McSweeney's for being, and I quote, "too much." I present it to you now, for your consideration for the Best American Completely Unerotic; In Fact, Makes You Never Want to Have Sex Again anthology:

How do married people masturbate?

How do married people masturbate?
What do they picture when they come?
They think of the guy at the office, the girl
In the video, her asshole stretched, wincing;
Ex-girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, the ones they still hate.
There’s nothing safe to think about, they fall asleep.

This is how you prepare to go to sleep,
How you wake up, how you run home and masturbate.
Everybody does it! Why can't you? You hate
Me for wanting to fuck when you just want to come –
I turn to stroke you, you turn away, wincing.
I don't care if you think about another girl.

I would want to fuck her too, that girl,
Anybody but me, laying next to you asleep,
A big fat fucking obstacle to your wincing
Nightly ritual: Pop in a tape and masturbate,
Watch that girl get drilled. Two minutes to come.
You mop up, drift off. You burned off some hate.

Not me. I walk around with mine. I hate
What I saw on that tape. I thought, poor girl,
She's in pain and she has to pretend to come.
I lay next to you that night, unable to sleep,
Therefore you were unable to masturbate.
The clock shined mean and bright in the dark. We winced.

Some nights I straddle a pillow, wincing,
Squeezing at thoughts I don't want to think, I hate
The way you come to me when I masturbate.
Face down on my belly, I look like that girl.
I writhe a while. I give up. I go to sleep.
I don't come. It's okay. I don't need to come.

I don't care what you think about when you come,
As long as it's me you're fucking, wincing,
Waiting for you to get off and slump, fall asleep.
You are faithful. I have no right to hate
You, hate myself, hate the hundreds of girls
With their assholes stretched, so you can masturbate.

I know who you are when you masturbate. I come
Into the room, kiss your forehead, your lover girl. Why are you wincing?
Your toes curl in silence. I hate you. I love you too. Let's go to sleep.

--- Janice Erlbaum

from the archive; first posted  March 20, 2008.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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