If we may say that the civilized man is clever but not wise, we may say, also, that the prairie is dry but not without water. Upon the prairie there are occasional rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and flooded buffalo wallows. Like the American System itself, most of the prairie ponds and lakes are fly-by-night operations. Although they may thrive temporarily, supporting a teeming food chain that can run from aquatic plants to muskrats to owls; from nymphal insects to sunfish to snapping turtles; or from salamanders to magpies to weasels, in time the ponds and lakes are invaded by vegetation filled with silt and reduced during summer droughts until they gasp (!) and die, changing into marsh and then prairie again. Often a prairie pond is not around long enough to earn a name.
Siwash Lake, since it found a home in a relatively deep depression between the hills of the terminal moraines left by the continental ice sheet, has enjoyed a certain permanence, although as evidenced by its imploding margins of arrowhead, cattail and reed, it, too, is entering the swamp phase of its existence and eventually will be unable to provide enough moisture to freshen a tadpole’s highball.
There are a few good years left on the little lake yet, however, and it was shimmering a blob of invisible ink when Sissy and Jelly caught sight of it from the hill behind the cinematographer’s blind. Sissy and Jelly walked over the crest of the hill, having tied their horses at the cherry tree, and there was the lake, taking. Knee-deep in wheatgrass and asters, Sissy and Jelly walked over the crest of the hill naked, having left their clothing at the cherry tree, and the lake was below them, shimmering. Sissy and Jelly walked over the crest of the hill naked, for the sunning that was in it, and it was truly difficult to believe, as they gazed at Siwash Lake, that they, too, Sissy and Jelly, were mostly water. (The brain, with its fragmentary and elusive qualities, yes, water; but body meat?)
Since the hidden cameras were trained on the lakeshore, they could not record the images that moved at the crest of the hill, nor could the concealed microphones steal conversation. Sissy and Jelly were talking when they walked over the crest, and after they had studied the lake for a while, they sat and talked again.
“She was living in Louisiana, in a shack town built by runaway slaves deep in the bayous. That’s one story, anyway. I’ve also heard that she was traveling through Yucatán with a circus, popping false eyelashes off a trained monkey with a bullwhip. It doesn’t matter. Wherever it was that she was, she ate peyote one night and had a vision. Niwetúkame, the Mother Goddess, came to her on the back of a doe, hummingbirds sipping the tears she was shedding, crying ‘Delores, you must lead my daughters against their natural enemy.’ Delores thought about it for a long time—it was one hell of a vivid vision—until she determined that the natural enemy of the daughters were the fathers and the sons. That night she whipped the shit out of her black lover, or the circus owner—it doesn’t matter which—and ran away. For a while she drove around, making a living selling peyote buttons to hippies. Then, Niwetúkame came to her again, saying that she must go to a certain place and prepare for her mission, the details of which would be revealed to her in another vision. The place the Peyote Mother directed her to come was the Rubber Rose Ranch. Isn’t that incredible? She zonks out on peyote at least once a week, but so far her Third Vision hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, she and Debbie are rivaling each other like a couple of crosstown high schools. Tension. Cowgirl tension! What a drag.”
‘‘What is Debbie’s position?” Sissy asked. A breeze swatted her ribcage with grassheads.
“Well, as I understand it, Debbie feels that people have a tendency to become what they hate. She says that women who hate men turn into men. Eee! That grass tickles, doesn’t it?” Jelly was being swatted, too. “Debbie says that women are different from men and that that difference is the source of their strength. Way back before Judaism and Christianity, women were in charge of everything, government, economics, family, agriculture and especially religion; both Debbie and Delores agree on that. But Debbie says that if women are to take charge again, they must do it in the feminine way; they mustn’t resort to aggressive and violent masculine methods. She says it is up to women to show themselves better than men, to love men, set good examples for them and guide them tenderly toward the New Age. She’s a real dreamer, that Debbie-dear.”
“You don’t agree with Debbie, then ?
“I wouldn’t say that. I expect she’s right, ultimately. But I’m with Delores when it comes to fighting for what’s mine. I can’t understand why Delores is so uptight about the Chink; he could probably teach her a thing or two. Or how can anybody dislike Billy West, that good ol’ rascal? God knows I love women, but nothing can take the place of a man that fits. Still, this here is cowgirl territory and I’ll stand with Delores and fight any bastards who might deny it. I guess I’ve always been a scrapper. Look. This scar. Only twelve years old and I was felled by a silver bullet.”
Jelly took Sissy’s hand, carefully avoiding its first or most preaxial digit, and helped her to feel the depression in her belly. It was as if she had bought her navel at a two-for-one sale.
Ignoring the possibilities that she had piqued Sissy’s curiosity or lit up her limbic switchboard, Jelly continued to speak. “God, I dig it out here. This raw space. Nobody has ever nailed it down. It’s too big and too tough. Men saw it as a challenge; they wanted to compete against it, to conquer it. For the most part they failed, and now they hate it. But women can regard it in a different way. We can flow with it, merge with it and love it. The Chink says that these plains exist on the edge of meaning, at a zone between meaning and something so great it’s got no meaning. I think I understand. Why any cowgirl wouldn’t be content with this I don’t know, but I reckon some people just can’t have fun unless everyone else is having fun, too.”
Sissy kept her hand on Jelly’s tummy, for as soon as the cowgirl quit talking she wished to inquire how she happened to catch a silver bullet in such a tender spot at such a tender age. Before she had a second to ask, however. Jelly lobbed a question of her own. “Say, Sissy, you working for the Countess and all, I wonder if you’ve had a chance to try the perfume trick we told the guests about the other day?”
“Er, well, no, I haven’t. It actually works, does it?”
“Sure it works. Why don’t you try it?”
“You mean now?”
She meant now, Sissy N for narcissus, N for nasty N for nigi (Nigi is Japanese for “rainbow.” It also means “two o’clock.” Thus, in Japan there are at least two rainbows daily); O for orchid, O for odoriferous, O for om (The meditation mat is the yogi’s horse; git along little yogi, gotta reach El Snuffing Out Candle before sundownownownownownownownownownownownownownown . . . Only mantra west of the Pecos); W for wisteria, W for wet. W for Walla Walla (a city in eastern Washington), Wagga Wagga (a city in southeastern Australia) and Wooga Wooga (a café in the astral dimension where Charlie Parker jams every Saturday night); N*O*W, Now. She wanted to watch you spread it, Sissy, opening like a ballet slipper, a gaping shellfish. She wanted to spread it, Sissy, her petite fingers wading in the swamp of it, raising its temperature, widening its smile. Oh why is it so difficult between women? Between a man and a woman it’s yes or no. Between women it’s always maybe. One mistake and the other runs away. Even when women embrace they must keep their hearts still, eyes blank. Words are out of the question. But it’s worth it, Sissy worth the pretensions, interruptions and caution. When a man is in you, you cannot imagine what it is his body is feeling, nor can he know your pleasures accurately. Between women, each is precisely aware: when she does that she is certain that the other is feeling this. And it’s so soft, Sissy. So soft.
Krishna, or as he is called in the West. Pan, the god Jesus Christ drove into hiding, was the only god who understood women. Krishna/Pan lured maidens into the woods, but he never raped, nor did he seduce with false promises or insincere declarations of love. He awakened them with special ancient vaudeville; he turned them on. It is that way that women visit each other: as music, as clowns.
Woman has not suffered civilization gladly. It has been suggested, in fact, that all of civilization was merely a dike thrown up by men, fearful of sexual competition, in order “to hold back wild and unruly feminine waters.” Now, however, She may be commandeering the shining inventions of civilized man and turning them to Her own dark uses. For example, kissing.
Kissing is man’s greatest invention.
All animals copulate, but only humans kiss.
Kissing is the supreme achievement of the Western world.
Orientals, including those who tended the North American continent before the ravagement, rubbed noses, and thousands still do. Yet despite the golden fruit of their millennia —they gave us yoga and gunpowder, Buddha and corn on the cob —they, their multitudes, their saints and sages, never produced a kiss.
The greatest discovery of civilized man is kissing.
Primitives, pygmies, cannibals and savages have shown tenderness to one another in many tactile ways, but pucker against pucker has not been their style.
Parakeets rub beaks. Yes, it’s true, they do. However, only devotees of premature ejaculation, or those little old ladies who murder children with knitting needles to steal their lunch money to buy fresh kidneys for kittycats could place birdbilling in the realm of the kiss.
Black Africans touch lips. Quite right; some of them do, as do certain aboriginal tribesmen in other parts of the world—but though their lips may touch, they do not linger. The peck is a square wheel, awkward and slightly ominous. What else did Judas betray Our Savior with but a peck: terse, spit-free and tongueless?
Tradition informs us that kissing, as we know it, was invented by medieval knights for the utilitarian purpose of determining whether their wives had been into the mead barrel while the knights were away on duty. If history is correct, for once, then the kiss began as an osculatory wiretap, an oral snoop, a kind of alcoholic chastity belt, after the fact. Form does not always follow function, however, and eventually kissing for kissing’s sake became popular in the courts, spreading to the tradesmen, peasants and serfs. And why not? For kissing is sweet. It was as if all the atavistic sweetness still remaining in Western man was funneled into kissing and that alone. No other flesh like lip flesh! No meat like mouth meat! The musical clink of tooth against tooth, the wonderful curiosity of tongues.
If women took short delight in lesser inventions, such as the wheel, the lever and the blade of steel, they applauded kissing, practicing it upon their men, for fun and profit, and upon each other—within limits. Because they were designed to suckle both male and female child at their breasts, women are not as sexually restrictive as men. They have always been prone to kiss other women, a practice that has made our Faith uneasy and our smut-sniffers pale. In 1899. even so relatively liberal a Victorian as Dr. Mary Wood-Alien felt compelled to write, in What a Young Woman Ought to Know, “I wish the friendships of girls were more manly. Two young men who are friends do not lop on each other, and kiss and gush. Girlish friendships that include fondling and kissing are not only silly, they are even dangerous.”
WHO WILL SING THE PRAISES OF SILLY AND DANGEROUS KISSING? She feared to fondle your secret parts, Sissy, and you feared to fondle them in front of her. But your mouths were bold—and silly and dangerous—and you leaned toward one another slowly, sliding cheeks, and kissed. Meeting with a passing bee’s pulsation, you mashed your mouths flat until soon your tongues were entangled in bubbles and breaths. Long, thick tongues painted each other with tongue stuff; painting away gradually the feminine fears so that you could extract your fingers from her sterling scar and slide them down her belly. When the hair and juice whispered against your fingertips—whispered dirty words such as “pussy,” “cunt,” and “snatch”—you thought of Marie, always grabbing you there, and you almost pulled away. But Jelly moaned in your mouth, hooding it with sweetness, and in a moment her own hand was exploring the hot folds of your vulva.
Embraced, you toppled over in the wheatgrass. Her Stetson fell off and rolled away in the direction of Oklahoma City. Maybe it wanted to say howdy to Tad Lucas. Your eyes sent an archeological expedition to Jelly’s face, and hers to yours; both unearthed inscriptions and pondered their meaning. She whispered that you were beautiful and brave. She called you a “hero,” meaning heroine, but her fingers were not fooled for an instant. You tried to tell her how much her friendship meant to you. Did you get the words out or didn’t you? Teeth of foam, lips of pie.
After a hungry stillness, like intermission at a wolf dance, rhythms were established. You were socked into one another now, it had been acknowledged and approved, and so you arched and pushed and corkscrewed and jackknifed, softly but with pronounced cadence. Fingerfucking is an art. Men indulge in it; women excel at it. Ohh. Fireman save my child!
You felt as if your hand were up a jukebox, a flesh Wurlitzer spewing colored electrical sparks as it played itself to pieces on the Dime of the Century. Your clitoris was a switch without an “off.” She snapped it on on on and further on. You crooked your tongue ’round an erect nipple. She smiled at your quiverings when she parted your asshole.
Everything became scrambled. You rocked each other in cradles of sweat and saliva, until you could see nothing. You imagined her in a bride’s trousseau, pictured her a mare. Did you ferment, the two of you? You smelled like it. Fans of funk and fever opened and closed, chins were aglisten with the juice of kissing. You rocked and rocked, your thumb swacking her belly in rhythm, adding to the excitement—hers and yours.
Eyes closed, or maybe only glazed, you pictured her tight young whatdoyoucallit in your mind. Hair by dripping hair, it gaped before you. Your own clitoris felt as swollen pink as a bubblegum cigar. Oh these things were made to be loved!
Suddenly you were weeping. Noisy breaths bucked out of you. You called “Jelly Jelly” when you intended only to murmur “mmmm.” It didn’t matter. Jelly bean couldn’t hear you. She was screaming. Hysterical from the scalding hot softness of girl-love.
Criminey, how that filly can come, you thought, after your own spasms had subsided. At the same moment, Jelly was wondering how a city apartment house could possibly contain your sex cries. For Jelly, too, was at rest. Only gradually did you both realize that a third auditory ingredient had mixed with Jelly screams and Sissy groans—a brasher, wilder sound, though obviously the work of the same composer.
Sticky fingers were pulled from melons. Soaked inside and out, the two of you sat up. There came that noise again, only louder, more eerie. Had your hairs, short and long, not been so damp they might have stood. It was a mighty trumpeting, a whoop such as the World might have made on the day it was born.
It was then that you ladies, your rosy bodies imprinted with patterns of crushed leaves and stems, looked to see a squadron of white satin airliners circling Siwash Lake, a flock of birds so grand and giant and elegant that your hearts squeezed out eternity’s toothpaste.
Describe the whooping crane (Grus americana) in twenty-five words or less.
The whooping crane is a very large and very regal white bird with long black legs, a sinuous neck and a thrilling trumpetlike voice.
Okay. I’ll grade that a C.
Only a C? May I try again?
The most spectacular of our native wading birds, the whooping crane stands about five feet tall and has a wingspread of nearly eight.
No improvement, I’m afraid. Still a C. One more try?
Be my guest.
Imagine Wilt Chamberlain in red yarmuIke and snowy feathers…
Hold it. You’re assuming that the reader knows who Wilt Chamberlain is. Many people don’t follow basketball and wouldn’t understand that Wilt signifies size and strength and arrogance made palatable by grace.
I give up. The whooper enters one’s spirit the instant it enters one’s senses. It is perfect radiant sky monster and I cannot describe it.
Better. Make that a B.
Patute Indians called the crane kodudududududu,” said Sissy. “Isn’t that a funny name?”
Jellybean was delighted. “Say it again,” she urged.
“Kodudududududu. Six dus. Kodudududududu.”
They both laughed.
“You know a lot about Indians, don’t you?” asked Jelly. She brushed dead cherry leaves from her panties before stepping in.
“A little,” said Sissy. She was slower getting into her undies because of her thumbs.
“And birds, too. I can’t get over the way they let you walk up so close to ’em. Whoopers are supposed to be really skittish. ’Specially if they’re migrating.” “Maybe they’ve never seen a human being nude before. We’re different when we’re naked. But I do have a way with birds, I guess. I told you about Boy, only parakeet to ever flag down a Diesel rig.” Sissy looked at Jelly’s popover tits as they disappeared into glossy shirt of cactus sunset design. In the looking, her blue gaze grew solemn. “I understand a tad about Indians and birds,” she said softly, “but I don’t know if I understand what happened up there.”
Jelly’s eyes snagged Sissy’s, elevated them. “Something nice happened up there.”
“Yes,” admitted Sissy. “It was nice.”
“Do you feel bad about it?”
“No, oh no. I don’t feel bad. I feel … different. Or maybe I don’t feel different; maybe I feel like I should feel different.” She was thoughtful. She zipped up. “Have you had sex with girls much before?”
“Only since I’ve been at the Rubber Rose. Between Miss Adrian and Delores, every eligible male’s been scared away from here, and there’s usually trouble of one kind or another if we fool around with the hicks in Mottburg. That leaves your fingers or other women, and at least half the cowgirls on the ranch have been in each other’s pants by now. There’s not a queer among ’em, either. It’s just a nice, natural thing to do. Girls are so close and soft. Why did it take me all these years to learn that it’s okay to roll around with ’em? It’s ’specially good when it’s somebody you really like a lot.” She hugged Sissy and sugar-doodled a few kisses around her neck and ears.
A pair of smiles rode across the Dakota hills.
Perhaps a person gains by accumulating obstacles. The more obstacles set up to prevent happiness from appearing, the greater the shock when it does appear, just as the rebound of a spring will be all the more powerful the greater the pressure that has been exerted to compress it. Care must be taken, however, to select large obstacles, for only those of sufficient scope and scale have the capacity to lift us out of context and force life to appear in an entirely new and unexpected light. For example, should you litter the floor and tabletops of your room with small objects, they constitute little more than a nuisance, an inconvenient clutter that frustrates you and leaves you irritable: the petty is mean. Cursing, you step around the objects, pick them up, knock them aside. Should you, on the other hand, encounter in your room a nine-thousand-pound granite boulder, the surprise it evokes, the extreme steps that must be taken to deal with it, compel you to see with new eyes. And if the boulder is more special, if it has been painted or carved in some mysterious way, you may find that it possesses an extraordinary and supernatural presence that enchants you, and in coping with it—as it blocks your path to the bathroom—leaves you feeling extraordinary and supernatural, too. Difficulties illuminate existence, but they must be fresh and of high quality.
To the obstacles that had conspired to prevent Sissy Hankshaw Gitche, white female Protestant of South Richmond, Virginia, from attaining normality, from filling a responsible and orderly role, from operating as a productive, well-adjusted contributor to the human community, now must be added friendship with Bonanza Jellybean. Whether this latest obstacle was to elevate Sissy or nudge her toward the breaking place, as a certain straw is reported to have done to a certain burdened camel, was impossible to judge from her smile, for it was simultaneously gladdened and apprehensive. It is of little or no value to analyze mental states such as this. The kingdom of formal ideas will always be a weak neighbor to the kingdom of thrills, and Sissy was a princess of thrill. Blood bunched in her head like grapes in a wig. It sang there like a popular ballad—even though the only radio station in the area played nothing but polkas. Jelly had promised to come to her room that night, with marijuana and new positions. If those prospects excited her, she was also excited by the memory of the whooping cranes, a sight all the more breathtaking because of the knowledge that those huge, elegant fugitives were so few in number and perched so precariously on the brink of total extinction. No heat, no agony, no bloody struggle, but a band of exquisite creatures (for which the world has no replacement) poised coolly—defiantly!—on the winking eyelid of doom.
Perhaps crane and cowgirl merged in her mind into a single bright-eyed beaky goblin of love.