“Sex Education” by Sarah Freligh

Sarah Freligh


How is it I recall so exactly the clatter
of film unspooling from loop
to loop, the musk of perfume radiating

from my wrists and throat, the warm gush
of Juicy Fruit, the rasp of stockings
as we crossed and uncrossed our legs. The heat

in that room, a flock of girls cooped up
away from the roosters, the almost men
of our fantasies who we dreamed

would stand beneath our window
one day and crow for us the way
Romeo had for Juliet. How we laughed

when an army of sperm ejected
from a cannon into a body
of water where they swam or died,

cartoon smiles disappearing in tiny peeps
as one by one they drowned, leaving
one last lonely sperm to swim up

the long isthmus where the river
opened to an ocean and I still recall
how the orchestra soared as he swam

and swam toward the round ship
of the egg, and how we stood
and cheered when he docked, exhausted

and triumphant, this tiny survivor,
this sturdy sperm we would spend
the next ten years trying to kill off,

and because of the stupid movie I felt
like a murderer each time I imagined him battering
frantic and headlong against the barrier

I’d erected down there, shouting
defense de la defense! as he died in spasms
of agony and once—because I was drunk

and didn’t give a damn, because I wanted
only to sink into the soft chance of carelessness—
I let the whole bunch of them skinny dip

without a death sentence of chemicals
awaiting them at the end of their swim
and because I’d forgotten what

my sex ed teacher said that day
when the film ended and the lights came up:
Remember, girls, it takes just one.

What chance did I have anyway?
They were as fit as Olympians, hardy
and well-trained. They came in droves

in armies, entire Caesar’s legions, coming
and coming and coming, so
many of them against one of me.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012


Sarah Freligh: “My poem ‘Sex Education’ emerged from an exercise I give my creative nonfiction students: to locate a memory by recalling a particular taste or smell. On this particular day, I had twelve minutes to scribble in my own notebook and I conjured up the taste of a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit gum and the smell of Ambush, cologne that was popular at the time. Those details led me back to that sex education classroom and into the poem.” (web)

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