what conversation can be had about the 1970s without talking about sex? on the nights that i walked up dearborn to my mentor’s apartment north of division (elaine with her tangled fall of golden curls and those fragile little sticks of arms, her legs stuck out from a cable knit sweater–i don’t even remember what we would talk about or how she helped me); the walk would take me past a little block square park with the newberry library to its north and the masonic lodge with its magic and secrets to the south, the fall of leaves, autumn in chicago.
the stone facade somber, draped in ivy’s deep mourning
iron-gated against the decades, windows flash and spark in the
headlights of circling cars.
it is not easy for me to pinpoint when i figured out what exactly was happening in the park; what journey its inhabitants were on–i didn’t even notice that cars would circle it repeatedly until later. this was the time that i was finding what my sexuality was really about, who else may be like me (many more than i had thought)–i was only 20 and particularly naive, and particularly horny–just as a 20 year old should be.
darkness attracts these visitors,
it is their cloak of anonymity.
tending their casualness, they lounge
legs spread in invitation to passersby.
the next time, the next time i walked into the park on my way home, smoking a cigarette, a little nervous about what i didn’t know (before i’d graduated with some street smarts), but sure that i was on my way to knowing more. i sat on a bench across from another man who was pointedly ignoring me, his eyes catching the street lights, the car lights, his legs spread, on the lookout.
a quick flame of anticipation, smoke then unfurls
in careful examination of opportunities.
an open car door beckons, an ash of interest
flicked their way,
i was fascinated and turned on, afraid too. some secret signal reached him, he stood and shook a leg allowing his package to fall into place, packed tight against his thigh (delicious-looking, a drumstick, juicy) and walked to the curb where a man had opened a car door and my next lover (not true, but i had hoped) slipped into the dark leather seat waiting for him and the car took off. instead of circling the park it turned away and was gone.
fumbling freedom, release, all promised,
the blood rushing in your ears, but discovery, disclosure, dissolution,
was the true tempo of this dance of metal and flesh.
was that it? was that all there was? i walked home quickly, pushing my jeans down around my ankles as soon as the door to my apartment had closed behind me, leaning against it, rubbing myself to orgasm through my jockeys in record time. i went back to the park the next night, no pretense of going to elaine’s (i’d used that excuse once, what was the point, when my intention was to satisfy myself?)
fall’s leaves and car’s tires whisper, whimper,
skittering across the concrete, buried in the curb.
the sound of promises left untended by
these shepherds, forests, nights.
that night it was my turn to slip into a waiting car, confronting a panting older man, belly within inches of the steering wheel, too eager to grab my crotch, too quick too, pulling my hand and putting his own need ahead of mine. “let’s drive,” he looked at me and i knew i should step out, get out, excuse myself, politely, suddenly, but, but my curiosity and my desire (not for him, but for the act) was too strong and by the time i was hiding my panic, lighting, smoking, trying to engage in small talk, it was too late, we were off on our way up the street, cutting loose from the other circling cars.
slowly past the stone wall, this side, and that,
and around again, patience and
desperation in equal parts;
youth spectral, shades silhouetted in moonlight.
he was surprisingly strong, surprisingly quick to come, surprisingly slipping twenty dollars in my hand at a corner, “get us a cup of coffee, will ya, kid?” and when i got back from the corner diner with the hot paper cups, steaming, he was gone, the taillights of other cars replacing his. i thought for a just a moment that i might faint (embarrassment, fear). that what had happened hadn’t, that i knew what corner i was standing on (i didn’t), late on a fall night in chicago, that wind off the lake winding around my neck, a noose tightening its grip on my life.
the truth is much different than the fantasy we concoct about sex, about love, about our life. it’s always a little messier, a little more dirty, a little less proper, a little more like what we didn’t want, but accept anyway, always a little more hopeful than the truth would allow.