In the latest issue:

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount

Short Cuts: Springtime for Donald

David Bromwich

Meetings with their Gods

Claire Hall

‘Generation Left’

William Davies

At the North Miami Museum: Alice Paalen Rahon

Mary Ann Caws

Buchan’s Banter

Christopher Tayler

‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow

In Lahore

Tariq Ali


James Lasdun

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley

At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill

William Gibson

Thomas Jones

Poem: ‘Murph & Me’

August Kleinzahler

The Stud File

Kevin Brazil

John Boorman’s Quiet Ending

David Thomson

In Shanghai: The West Bund Museum

John-Paul Stonard

Diary: The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner

The Word from Wuhan

Wang Xiuying

Designer SexFiona Pitt-Kethley

(For D.)

You’ve made yourself a master of the art
of touch. You play me like an instrument.
While I lie passively, as you prefer –
eyes closed, you’d rather that I didn’t watch –
your fingers (unobserved) combine to seem
like other things. Your subtlety deceives.

This time I’m on my front and sneak a look ...
I see your hands, then the illusion breaks.
Condoms are not secure enough for you.
You’ve given up full sex for fear of Aids.
Your argument is this – why risk disease
when pleasure can be had in different ways?

Of course, I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy
the mini ecstasies that you create.
You’re good at what you do. And yet I feel
a deep frustration every time I come.

Outside upon the street we make a pair –
you in your leather jacket, me in silk –
both tall, we naturally fall into step.
Only within, I feel a certain hollowness.
My womb aches tangibly for something else.

I’ve journeyed to the limits on my own,
and walked the cities of the world at night.
By Lake Avernus, several years ago,
I drank the waters of the underworld.
This year, I climbed to Mount Lykaion’s peaks
where the first Greeks made human sacrifice.
One summit is a mound of ash and bone.
There is a curse, it’s said, on men and beasts
who trespass in the Sanctuary of Zeus.
They lose their shadows, die within the year.
(I figure women though, must be immune –
my shadow’s still as healthy as it was.)
I’ve slept high up on Mount Taÿgetus,
wedged in between a boulder and a pine,
in summer clothes – the mountain hut was closed.
(You tell me that you walked there as a boy
with several friends – it’s near your childhood home.)

In all these places I saw nothing of death.
Avernus now has birds again – and fish.
The stream of Acheron tastes cool and sweet.
Lykaion teems with life – gold butterflies
alighted on my shirt. Taÿgetus
was cold, that’s true – but I did not catch cold.
The shepherds gave me hot sheep’s milk at dawn.
And as for sex? I’ve risked it many times –
a thing that nobody can do alone.

In all, I find it hard to understand your fear.
Spartans are brave we know from history books –
always in training, athletes, super-fit –
both girls and boys worked out without their clothes.

Sex is the centre and the cause of life.
Foreplay is only foreplay, nothing more –
this holding back – I call it cowardice.
Germs are a part of life – our lottery –
and like fierce dogs, they’re most inclined to bite
the timid souls who shrink away from them.
Use some protection till we’ve found a cure
for AIDS – that’s wise – but don’t give up on sex.

The end of sex implies a greater death –
all Nature petering out – mankind and beasts
tottering into a fearful old age,
childless – with no hope of posterity.

Choose wisely – caution’s best, I’ll give you that.
But fearing death too much is fearing life.

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