“Skills” by Kenny Tanemura

Kenny Tanemura


She said sex was a skill, not just something
you do. I fumbled with whips and leashes,
mistaking oddness for art.
No, you have to be creative, she said,
and I thought of Henry James’ line

about how a work of art needs a central force
to hold attention. I used bananas,
massage oils, Greek yogurt,
mistaking experimentation for
imaginative truth. Don’t you see,

she said, you must respond
to my body by sensing how I feel.
You do something to me out of inspiration,
and I respond, you react, a series
of creative acts which are the steps

to slowly climbing the mountain together, she said.
But I couldn’t see beyond the fact
of caress and thrust, like a novelist
who gives only descriptions and nothing
of the mystery of living. Then,

after months, I found that pleasure was so
simple, it could easily get lost
in gimmicks. That the climax should not ensue
until the lover is completely satisfied.
She could spot a mechanical move

from a mile away and knew when a body acted out of
unbearable instinct, or the smaller tincture
of thought. Don’t think, I told myself, just do,
but my body, aging with something
less than grace, wants less to act and more

to ponder. How sex is an art we can learn well
or not, like cooking or the complication
of tango. I want to learn and I don’t.
Marveling as I do at the ordinary, even the expected,
from which surprise always comes.

from Rattle #67, Spring 2020


Kenny Tanemura: “Classical Japanese poets sparked my interest in poetry, and I find myself responding to Japanese poetry from Japanese aesthetics to experimentation with haiku by poets and writers from Richard Wright to Rainer Maria Rilke.”

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