Sunday, April 5, 2009

NPM, 2: "Oh God, Fuck Me," by Ruth L. Schwartz

[Second in a series of my favorite poems I'm gathering for National Poetry Month. Here are Thirty Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month]

I first read this poem, "Oh God, Fuck Me," just a few years ago. I was standing in a bookstore in London flipping through an anthology of contemporary poetry called Being Alive (Neil Astley, ed., Bloodaxe Books, 2004). This title immediately reminded me of a Catholic friend and his college theology professor, who had asked his freshman class, "Is God fuckable?" It freed my friend up that this could be a legitimate intellectual inquiry, that physical passion counted as part of God's world. *

I don't know anything else by this American poet, Ruth L. Schwartz. In a 2003 interview Schwartz said:
"There are lines in my poem 'AIDS Education, Seventh Grade,' which is in my first book, that I think could serve as an epigraph for everything I've written since:
Look we've been given these bodies
we don't understand.
We could spend our whole lives
learning how to live in them."

[2011: You might also like RLS's poem "Fetch", which begins, "Nothing is ever too hard for a god..."]

Here's the poem.

"Oh God, Fuck Me"

Fuck me, oh God, with ordinary things,
the things you love best in this world––

like trees in spring, exposing themselves,
flashing leaf-buds so firm and swollen

I want to take them into my mouth.
Speaking of trees, fuck me with birds,

say, and enormous raucous crow,
proud as a man with his hand down his pants,

and then a sparrow, intimately brown,
discreet and cautious as a concubine.

Fuck me with my kitchen faucet, dripping
like a nymphomaniac,

all night slowly filling a filling,
then overflowing the bowls in the sink––

and with the downstairs neighbor's vacuum,
that great sucking noisy dragon

making the dirty come clean.
Fuck me with breakfast, with English muffins,

the spirit of the dough aroused
by browning, thrilled by buttering.

Fuck me with orange juice,
its concentrated sweetness,

which makes the mouth as happy as summer,
leaves sweet flecks of foam like spit

along the inside of the glass.
Fuck me with coffee, strong and hot,

and then with cream poured into coffee,
blossoming like mushroom clouds,

opening like parachutes.
Fuck me with the ticking

clock, which is the ticking
bomb, which is the ticking heart––

the heart we heard in the first months,
in the original nakedness,

before we were squalling and born.
Fuck me with the unwashed spoon

proud with its coffee stain––
the faint swirl of a useful life

pooled into its center, round as a world.

--Ruth L. Schwartz

* Growing up outside the church, I'd drawn my ideas about the Catholic god from Fellini movies as being something like Anita Ekberg driving a red Ferrari. It had never occurred to me to ask the question "Is God fuckable?" because I never doubted the answer. It's one of the reasons I wanted to be Catholic.

When I first started going to Mass, in my thirties, I'd been studying Saint Augustine and was soaked in his language of intense longing for God. I wasn't surprised at all that in one of the first homilies I heard, the priest said he wanted Jesus to be his lover. I didn't realize this was an extraordinary thing for a priest to say. The mystics are always saying stuff like that. Sitting in the pews for a few years, I figured out that when it comes to sex, parish priests more usually offer a mix of awkward shame and romanticism right out of junior high. Mostly, though, it's just not mentioned.

Catholic religious imagery is intense, but after a while, it can become as unremarkable as a pair of slippers. You almost have to be an outsider, a newcomer, or in some sort of crisis to notice it.

Took me a while to slip into the slippers. Once when I was supposed to lector (read out loud) at daily Mass, I glanced at the reading beforehand and saw it was something about Jerusalem offering her abundant breasts to suck and fondling you on her lap (from Isaiah 66, I think).
The priest who was due to say Mass that day was a man I wasn't altogether at ease with, and I didn't really want to read this facing him across a small room.
I said to the guy who set up the daily Masses that I didn't feel comfortable reading this passage.
He looked at me, absolutely shocked. "But it's scripture," he said.

I knew he would read it if I insisted, but I thought, OK, fine, lepers or lambs, it's all the same, people don't even hear it. So I read it and the priest stared into space and I stared into space and I could have been reading the Lord's laundry list.

The passion, the body, can get pretty drowsy and domesticated in church, like urgent desire does if you give it warm milk and don't poke it with a stick. Still, it's there if you want it, or if you need it, and if I asked most Catholics I know if God is fuckable, I think I know what they'd say.
They'd say something like, The world is a sacrament. Take and eat.


bink said...

Great poem! It makes you want to add to her list...
making the God-fucking universe personal.

Love your mediation too...esp. the last paragraph/last two lines. It's really true. We have to "take and eat" or it's all for naught.

poodletail said...

Even I can "enter in to" this wonderful poem. I really like it and have to say again: I love the way you think and the way you write about what you think.

fresca said...

I love your idea, Bink, to write your own list. It hadn't even occurred to me. I would start with adding... ferns. terriers! river stones...

I think this is a wonderful--and easy--poem to enter in to, too, Cat. (Gosh, and thanks for your praise of me! I'm glad you like my writing. It makes me want to write more.)

Manfred Allseasons said...

Oh, I say! (drops monocle into tea..)

Really! (drops Pince-nez into Battenberg)

I thought God was such a shy chap, too...its always the quiet ones though, isnt it??

fresca said...

Shy? What about flashing Moses with his bum--how shy was that?

I had to look up "Battenberg". I discovered that it is an endangered species of cake. Endangered because the dyes that make its pink and yellow squares may be banned in the UK by the end of 2009. Will the world end?

PaulD said...

Been here twice now on this one, and probably should wait a couple of more times before commenting, but ...

The poem presents me with my own unlearned self; my current dilemma with poetry; that despite the passion in its making, it doesn't always appeal.

But your letter did appeal as a short story of a ramble in life.

fresca said...

Paul--is it this particular poem that doesn't appeal to you, or poetry in general?
Glad you liked my ramble...

Jennifer said...

I'm behind on everything--clearly!--but wanted to mention I love the mingling of sacred and profane (in both senses!) in this poem. We've talked about how the Protestant God of my youth can be rather cerebral and chilly...I love the reminders otherwise. :)

fresca said...

Hey, thanks for catching up, Jen!
Schwartz is Jewish (though not practicing)---I find the Mediterranean sensibilities of Jews and Catholics are often similar.

Alan said...

"Calling Out God and America: Ruth L. Schwartz and Brian Gilmore" Read it at

Fresca said...

Thanks, Alan! Nice essay. + You led me to RLS's poem, "Fetch."