By Hannah Fries:
how an orchid is made to look like sex, or
specifically, like the tachinid fly
who has landed on a leaf to flash
her private parts in the sun, opening
and closing so the light
catches. No wonder her hapless mate
must ravish the flower whose petals
are extended wings, barred yellow
and red-brown, stigma reflecting the sunlight.
Some orchids dance. Some reward
a bee with priceless perfume that lures
sweet attention. So what if I sweep up
my hair to show my neck, so what
if someone begins to kiss it?
Consider the bowerbird, jewelling
his nest with sapphire. Ask the two snakes braiding
their muscled lengths. See how God is in love
with sex, and how we are made
in her image! Like a lovesick ungulate,
haven’t you forgotten to eat for weeks?
Have you heard the barred owls scream
all night? Seen fireflies flashing their silent sirens?
The woodcock spirals higher and higher, then
plummets in sharp zigzags, wind
whistling through his wings like a song
(Song of Songs: honey and milk
under your tongue).
Nothing, after all, is solid—atoms flying
in all directions, ocean currents plunging
into themselves. Why not two bodies
by firelight, stunned by their bare
skin, their own flickering sudden
perfection? No hellfire here.
When galaxies collide, there is no wreck,
no blazing crash of suns and moons. Just
a rushing together, a folding in—
and a heat beyond orchids—
birthing, baptizing heat.
“But See” originally appeared in Terrain.org, and appears here today with permission from the poet.
Hannah Fries lives in western Massachusetts, where she is associate editor and poetry editor of Orion magazine. She is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers and is the recipient of a Colorado Art Ranch residency. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Drunken Boat, Calyx, The Cortland Review, Terrain.org, and other journals. She also serves on the board of The Frost Place—a Robert Frost Museum and poetry center in Franconia, NH—and on the organizing committee of the Berkshire Festival for Women Writers.
Editor’s Note: A comment on this poem (on Terrain.org) reads, “and now I feel like I need a cigarette and maybe a shower.” Amen! What a fierce, unabashed exploration of the sexual in nature, and of humans as creatures of that same nature. Fries explores sex against the Puritanical backdrop inherent in this country, as something that should be accepted and celebrated rather than demoralized. “See how God is in love / with sex, and how we are made / in her image!” Today’s poem is a little Ellen Key, a little Darwin, a little Anais Nin, and all revolutionary. Even at a time when little shocks the sensibilities, Fries uses poetry to take the reader one step out of their comfort zone and into the wild world of the natural.
Want to see more by Hannah Fries?
Hear Hannah Fries read “But See” and hear/read her poem “Descending Killington Peak” on Terrain.org
The Frost Place
“Love at Formel’s Junkyard”