*** NOT WORK APPROPRIATE
“Why Miss Celie, she say. You still a virgin.”
–Alice Walker, The Color Purple
“can/you touch yrself/&/when you do/ do you rush to say/ ‘get thee behind me/Satan?’”
–Ntozake Shange, “intermittent celibacy”
The First Lady and the girl are tarrying for anointing. She has spent her teenaged summer wondering why God has not made her body worthy of the Spirit that stretches women across the Pentecostal pews, speaking in tongues and falling out under the touch of the First Lady. She has finally walked down the carpeted aisle toward First Lady’s towering hat, her outstretched hands. Together, they pray until cloven tongues like as of fire make the girl’s “hallelujahs” indiscernible to the natural ear. “Be patient,” says the First Lady. “You have to ask for your anointing and even then, it takes its time.”
The prayer room in the back of the deserted church is spirit-still. The parishioners have long left; the pastor is doing important pastor things in his office while his wife tends to woman things like tarrying for tongues. “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, halle…” The girl’s tongue trips. She pauses, impatient. Sweat pools in the small of her back. “Be patient,” First Lady coos, speaking in her anointed tongue until it fills the room with thunder. The girl braces herself in the straight-backed church chair and speaks the twisting praise until numbness spreads from curled toe to tingling scalp. Her tongue slips again. And again. The fire that the apostles wrote about is trapped in her bones, and she speaks in the tongues of angels, shaking and shouting like women with twice her burden. “You see,” says the proud First Lady, “The holy spirit is a gentleman. He will not come unless you ask, unless you are sure you want Him. You’ve got to commune with the spirit.”
The girl/ woman knows now the crucible that birthed First Lady’s analogy. She lies frozen beneath a man who is neither gentleman nor spirit, holding her breath and praying for more anointing. He is the second man to surprise her with his erection, to take what is not offered, to violate sacred ground. She wonders if/ when she said yes.
The woman has lost his face beneath her navel, this man who knows her fear of flesh, the man who has told her that sex is body-worship. She prays under the ceiling fan as the room spins ecstatic. She feels every second of the minutes that go by. He caresses her clitoris with first the broad flat of his tongue, then teases her with the fluttering tip. She grabs ears, rakes hair… He draws her full pearl into the vacuum of his mouth, sucking her through her spasms. She rides the waves with her bucking hips and begins to shake beneath the hands resting on her stomach. She anoints his face with her oils, pouring from a reservoir unknown. She holds her breath and freezes, bracing herself for what she has imagined inevitable. But he is a just glistening smile, retreating and moving close until he rests against her shaking body, head to pounding heart. She feels him flaccid against her knee and begins to breathe again, wondering if she owes him. In the morning, the fried-egg, burnt-toast answer is no.
She spends many nights beneath the ceiling fan that sticky summer. She has bucked against his patient mouth, bounced God’s name off paint-chipped walls. They take his sheets to the Laundromat; the spinning suds remind her of her liquid self.
One night, he stops her before she shimmies her panties to her ankles, prepares to climb into fresh sheets. “Do you know there doesn’t have to be an after? This is sex too. I’m not going anywhere near you until you ask me. You don’t have to be afraid.” She rewinds the nights, lets the pattern play back in the theater of her mind, and shimmies unafraid.
One day soon, she will make his bed a river and forget to feel pressure. She will grab ears, rake hair, and shout all the gods from all the heavens. She will ache to ride his patience, long to extend an invitation for flesh. But her tongue will be tied. She has never asked for it before.
That truth will make her nakedly giddy. She will have answered the question that she had asked for years. Was there some truth to the Paul of Tarsus/ R. Kelly, mind/ body split? Had she ever asked for it before? Had she given signals? Had her eyes been deceiving? Had she made some sort of inadvertent hip movement, unknowingly signaled some sort of go-ahead that only her partners were taught to read? No. Never. Not once. In that moment, she will know those other men to be liars, know herself capable of wanting this communion of flesh.
“Please,” she will say, pushing boxers past his slight hips, nodding to the drawer where she knows he keeps gold packets like treasure box toys. “I want to feel you.” He will ask her if she’s sure, remind her that sex is not a three-course meal. He will lick shoulders, kiss moles, and dip below her navel to fill her with the whole of his tongue. When she is brimming over like a baptismal pool, when she has exercised her rights and exorcized her wrongs over and over and over again, only then will he enter gently, kissing her “Yes”-ing mouth.
She will know for the first time what it is to breathe through the initial moments of puzzle piece bodies. She will know what it is to willingly expand to accept flesh, to make room for an invited guest. She will know what it is to ride hips, lick lips, and suck the flesh of collarbone without praying for a swift end. She will intimately know the spirit of sharing pleasures, the resounding clarity of yes.
Who will divide this woman? Who will disregard the temple of her body? Who will dictate her alienation– tell her she is either spirit or flesh, blessed or cursed, all evil or all good? Who will deny her the healing of communion?