By Judith Ferguson
November 1991; page 7; Volume 3, No. 2

"...none of the funds authorized to be appropriated for the National Endowment for the Arts ... may be used to promote, disseminate, or produce materials which in the judgement of the NEA ... may be considered obscene, including but not limited to depictions of ... homoeroticism..."
- from a letter of agreement sent to NEA grant recipients

All Sleeping Women Now Awake and Move We, each of us, have our reason
here is mine -
I want you to press your hands
and lips to the canvas,
want you to know my love -
so that if she dies before me
I will not be alone
in grief.

I pull the cloth down from her shoulder
so you see her
as I see her
undraped - I know, it is always this way,
she has no need of it -
the frame, the posture,
the light arranged.

If I sign this agreement
I consent to the betrayal
of my own hands.
I agree to what I will not paint,
what I will not love,
with the unprotected tip of each finger,
with the unabashed tip of my tongue:

First, the skin, the integument,
first line of defense against
disease, and first to rise
to my touch -
look closely - erector pili
muscles tense in unison
to my tongue along her inner thigh.

Next, the parts that go
without saying:
no breasts, nipples, areola,
no clitoris, no labia, minora, majora,
no vagina, no symphisis pubis,
anus, rectum, sphincter - all out
of the question.

What if I said I was in love
with her brain,
would make love
to each convolution, each fissure and sulci,
to the pink and white and grey,
was especially aroused
by her pleasure center?
what then, if none of this
is allowed?

What of the mouth, the tongue and teeth
that nip and suck and trace?
or the clean line of the mandible?
no whispering music across her vocal chords,
no breathless ache
to her exact fingers pulling strings.

No flash electric current blue,
no voluptuous optic nerve,
no dilating blood vessels -
from the rose-flush of the cheeks
to that heaviness in her pelvis,
no impression of tension
no color of moan.

No counting each careful rib
spooned by each intercostal,
arching a perfect arc to her heart -
no velvet chambers
plush from continuous rhythm.
no ripple inward to the exquisite bone
from kisses placed in her
anticubital for safekeeping.

And finally, the absolute -
nothing organic:
no liver,
change one letter and it's lover,
one lover implies another
and here we are again -

Judith Ferguson is an Austin poet and a nurse. This poem first appeared in OUT/LOOK #11, winter 1991. New work will be published in CALYX and COMMON LIVES/LESBIAN LIVES this winter.