Excerpt from A Tin House


(flash essay from Tin House, Volume 4, Number 3)

I discovered my parents’ porn stash when I was around nine or ten, home sick from school, queasy, mildly feverish, forlorn, achy, and itching to discover something. The top shelf of their walk-in closet was accessible via a floor-to-ceiling shelving unit that held my mother’s shoes and served as a ladder – ascending, I found a Swedish butter cookie tin housing a slew of stunning but inexplicable rubber gadgets and, next to that, a stack of books unlike any I’d ever seen: pocket-sized, crooked lines of print, bilious green covers with lewd but inexplicit ink renderings of entwined naked couples with early 1960’s hair.

The title is lost to me, but the plot involved a guy with an elaborate and farcical plan to loosen up his tight-wound wife by having her roundly fucked by his best friend; the resulting shock of this incident causes the wife (Linda, it was definitely Linda) to lose her mind and go compulsively prowling for more – she eventually arranges her own gang bang on a pool table in her local tavern with a bunch of guys in a variety of positions and postures the spatial relations of which kept me flummoxed for a long, long time. I treasured and reread this worn, sad, captivating book for weeks, until my mother found it and flipped out to my father; his shruggy response: “I don’t care what she reads as long as she reads.”

Prior to this experience, I’d heard the customary cock/cunt/fuck words used out and about in the world, but never in such actualized and vivid context, and it was certainly the first time I’d seen them in print; it was also my introduction to the sexualized and never-thought-of-the-same-way-again use of the words throbbing, erect, shaft, come, such, climax, pussy, bush, anal, slit, blow, juice, lips, balls, dick, prick, and thrust. “Erotic” implies artistry, but this was just sheer pure porn, words that made their way in and made me feel – as this memory does, still – confused, scared, wet, fascinated, lured, queasy, mildly feverish, forlorn, achy, and itching to discover something.