by Deja Earley
I think of you two on your wedding day,
hands trembling as he removed your
pearled tiara and she loosened your
grandfather’s cufflinks. Did neither
of you have a wry cousin in a tube dress
and tats, keen to play greeter for the new world?
Or maybe your cousin did try; maybe while
she greeted great-aunts, your cousin sidled up
to explain, tried to describe safe passage,
tried to tell you what a woman might
moan for. And you were so set
in your theory that you misunderstood.
Maybe you thought it good advice,
but you applied it to the wrong button.
I can see how you’d be confused: the bellybutton
is decidedly erotic. Think of the bellydancer’s
swiveling hips, the bikini’s brash reveal.
A delicate crevasse, an inverted rosebud,
a cave of marvels, the torso’s wink.
And the actual site of sex (you know it
by now, I presume?) does unnerving
double-duty, serving us so constantly
in foul capacities that it can seem
our least sexy locale, a soiled stripe
from front to back. But how
did you manage this particular confusion?
How deeply did you bury yourself away
from hip-hop and locker room brags
and amorous animal couples at the zoo
to maintain this pure but unenviable bafflement?
And what would you have done, upon culminating
the first undressing, if you’d discovered your beloved had—
But now I am loving you both, imagining the tenderness applied to bellybuttons on your
I think of her sprucing it fastidiously in the shower that morning, and of how her
new lover, her only lover ever, must have lingered over it,
eagerly, tenderly, insistently. I hope he kissed it, and I hope you shivered with pleasure.
I think of my own fumblings, of how little sex resembled what I thought, which
was mood music and candles and elegant lingerie.
I think of how, mere days into marriage, my husband went out for a toothbrush and I
changed into long black satin, trembling,
exhilarated and unsure of the rules. I adjusted cleavage and smacked lip-gloss,
crossing and uncrossing my legs, auditioning winning positions.
When he returned, toothbrush in hand, he didn’t notice until I burst into tears.
I think of everything I didn’t know was involved, how sex in marriage is sex, but it also
concerns the price of car insurance,
and whose turn it is to scrub tub rings, and which smell wafts from the mudroom. It’s
about the rain outside hitting the sidewalk
in roses of splash, and a pair of polka dot rainboots, your husband’s white
dress shirt or a kitchen apron. What’s sexiest is what’s on hand, transformed.
You move the cat aside, brush away a fleet of toys, and hope you don’t wake
the baby. Quietly, quietly, you make of every mundanity a room,
and the two of you enter it. And this complicated alchemy, which encompasses every
detail, can take years to master, to reach virtuoso.
It’s not a quick and thrilling drunken tumble into a stranger’s bed and a stumble
home. It’s sex, then orange juice. It’s sex, then mopping cat vomit.
It’s best as a steady ramp, a passion no less promising if it begins in wild misconception.
At some point you drift
for weeks, months, a year for each
baby, and still, when he comes
to you while you’re finely
chopping celery, when he moves
behind you and his hands meander,
every cell is attentive. Your scars
and eye wrinkles, every button
of your blouse, every unshaved hair
and every part that doesn’t sit up
the way it used to, everything wants
to answer him, wants to show him
what you’re made of,
wants to send him down
the proper shaft into the center.
DEJA EARLEY lives in Auburn, Alabama with her husband, her daughter, and a lot of books. Her own book, a collection of poetry, titled To the Mormon Newlyweds Who Thought the Bellybutton Was Somehow Involved, will be released next year from Signature Books.
Photo: “Vintage Buttons” by Nicole Vaughan