Before we get to the results of the fourth Plume Service writing workshop, let me just say: This is not what I had planned! It’s not important what I was going to have the writers’ focus be; what’s important is that we decided to begin by brainstorming a list of different genres and formats with which we could experiment that evening. You know, alluring ones like lists, emails, and texts (snore); stirring ones like personal ads, advertisements, and autopsy reports (morbid); passionate ones like stand-up comedy and . . . bad reviews (now that could be fun). Thumbs up, thumbs down. 2 out of 5 stars. Critical commentary. Then someone, I can’t remember who, mentioned (shhhhh) e . . . r . . . o . . . t . . . i . . . c . . . a.
Amused, I turned around to gaze at the painting of Venice that had attracted so many Plume Service writers before. A gondola. A ship. A tower. Waves. This was going to be hard. But then, when you think about it (really, take a stroll down the halls and along the walls of the ballrooms), The Pfister’s walls abound in sultriness. Consider these suspects:
Time for a cold shower? Yikes.
And consider, too, the names: “Flirtation” (there are two of those!). “The Kiss.” (Are those two babies?!) “The Captive.” (Wow. Thank goodness for feminism!) “Trysting Place.” “The Chess Game.” “Love’s Dream.” “The Royal Love Feast.” “Admiration.”
Bad reviews and erotica it was, then!
Will all of these make the cut and grace the walls of The Pfister? I dare say, probably not. A little (a lot?) too risque. But I can say that the writers accepted the challenge without batting their eyelashes, they wrote with passion and concentration, they shared their pieces out loud at the end, snapped and clapped their praises for their fellow writers, and discussed the intricacies and honesties in each story. Sure, there were a few blushes and giggles. But the experience was liberating, refreshing. How often do we talk to each other with such candor and immediacy about sexuality, let alone sensuality? Without shame or embarrassment? And how often with relative strangers?
We’ll start with a tame one.
Richard Lorenz’ Sunday Afternoon (as interpreted by Christina Oster)
Phyliss and Benjamin liked to color within the lines. They were regimented people with allegiance to the “dullsville du jour.” Sadie Saccharine was their feisty neighbor, a woman of vibrancy who brought flirtation and festivity to any and all she encountered. Sadie had a way of encouraging Phyliss to make bold changes and take chances. After all, it was Sadie who encouraged Phyliss to change her name spelling from the typical two L’s at the end of it to two S’s. She had flirtatiously said, “Think Phyl-iss – like a kiss!”
A knock at the door occurred one Sunday afternoon. Sadie appeared, dressed in Victorian Secret, whispering to Phyliss. Benjamin, eating porridge, tilted his ear closer, then raised his eyebrow. Intrigue ensued. He set down his porridge, approached the ladies, winked, and playfully asked, “Color me three?”
R. Wood’s “Seascape” (as imagined by Bethany Price)
I saw you resplendent from across this small world. In a time of flowering and self-searching.
I came here with a lover, Armand, but around your waves a new muscle of spirit and flesh pulses in me.
The greenery where we lay is too stifling. His hands around my shoulders and neck while we lay.
I’d rather you bed me.
But instead you bed the body just passing below my line of vision. He slipped, this nude man with matted hair.
I imagine his soft penis and mine kissing like your waves do among the endless cerulean.
Your song bids me come.
Andrea Secondo’s “Tired Out” (as imagined by Bethany Price)
He had set the table an hour before Armand got home. Typical of him, lateness–but he understood, too, the hectic nature of his days. After gossip of the sun-soaked day, Armand fell asleep. The wine didn’t help matters. I will bed him gently, he thought. I will tuck his covers around his chin, admiring the soft body that has loved him for so long.
In the dark, Armand’s toes will curl around his calf, his soft murmurs, drunken, as sweet as when they tangle together, under the richness of God’s graces, the sun stroking their faces along with the usual suspects.
“Diana of the Hunt” (as imagined by Monica Thomas)
She’s come bearing horns made of moon, shaking brick and bound in garb of mushroom sack and thick rope. Young Athena, bare-chested in bejeweled breastplate, by her side.
Look, look–how on the distant hillside they frolic to nude-photobom Susan Boyle’s left-breasted man-spread selfie.
These twins in braids splayed naked in the shallow pond as the lean greyhound laps up water, hellhound held in tight fists by her collar.
Uninitiated, the right bank eunuch is gearing to cross legs, wearing nothing but a thong.
The hem of Aphrodite’s apprentice rides way above the knee while a servant squats in front, strumming the female master’s lute from behind.
Far left, these lovers share throbbing hearts and Paul Simon’s soft, sly face.
The arrow pierced the tip of the smooth, erect pole at the right bank.
One battle-clad Amazonian arm hangs blue ribbon laundry from the May Day frame amongst the golden blindfold and the herald’s horn.
“Untitled Landscape” (as interpreted by Eduardo De la Cruz)
The thought of your touch sparks my core. It makes me miss you more. It was there, painted on a spring dusk when the trees had just witnessed its first yellow leaves, when the air was so quiet and the flow of the river so tender, that you could hear the gentle scratching of the grass on feet. On a day like this, we took what the world had given us and became all in one. Your breasts, like two tender fruits of heaven, rested on my bare skin. Your hands joined to mine; the way your curls rested on my shoulders as I leaned inside against the riverbank. I could feel the cool air on my back as your fingers gripped the skin on my hips. I could feel us now and I could live this moment forever. Every strike on your pelvis made the gentlest bounce on your curls. As I prepared to climax, I could feel your grip tighten, almost there, almost there…
Crap, I dozed off for a minute. I find myself staring at a simple painting of a nature scene with a pair of trees and a river parallel to a dirt road. And in the glorious scene of it all, I could only think about two things: how I felt like the biggest loner, and the intricate things I must do to act cool while I hide this boner.
H.A. Bras’ “The Cardinal Reading” (as interpreted by Dominic Inouye)
One critic of H.A. Bras’ “The Cardinal Reading” purports that “Bras sees the background as less important (sic) which can be seen in the lack of detail.” While this may be so, it may be equally valid to argue that the background details that are more important. The background details and the foreground ones–and, to be sure, the cardinal’s costume itself.
Consider, for instance, Bras’ choice of decorative flourishes, however undetailed or blurred: to the left, a painting of a mysterious, foggy island, the kind to which one would row for a clandestine tryst; the equally enigmatic wallpaper swirls obscured by a too-large and ominous cardinal shadow; the arched doorway to the right revealing a curtained space perfect for a quick change . . . of scenery; the velvety table clothing creating another ideal hiding space; not to mention the elaborately mussed folds of the cardinal’s very own robes, bunched oddly enough to hide a, well, . . . And, of course, the slight mountain of carpet, most likely unrecognized by most, rapidly pushed up in haste as feet scrambled away, revealing a small, dark, gaping cave.
“Man and Woman With Guitar” (as interpreted by Ana Moreno)
As they did every evening after supper, Elizabeth and her husband warmed themselves close to the fireplace, talking about the day’s occurrences and other topics of immediate importance. Elizabeth’s husband was an older, worn, tired man who thought of nothing but trade embargos, tobacco shipments, and balancing his money purse.
As he drifted off to sleep, Elizabeth’s mind began to wander as her fingers lightly strummed her guitar. Her fingers intentionally stroking each string, she looked intently into the glowing embers and began to imagine his fingers softly running up her thigh. The chords melded together as she imagined the tips of his fingers brushing against her wetness. Instinctively, Elizabeth spread her legs, inviting his dreamlike touch to encompass her entire beiing.
Her strokes became strategic, intentional, one building on the other. With each pluck of the guitar, Elizabeth imagined her husband’s fingers being thrust inside her. Her rhythm became heated, eccentric. The sounds emerging from the guitar became stronger, harder. Her breath began to quicken. Fingers strumming in continuous motion. Building and building. Until one final, immense crescendo sprung from her guitar as she moaned in outwardly emphatic pleasure.
Elizabeth’s husband stirred in his chair at the sound of his wife’s immense pleasure, though he did not wake from his solitude. He was a man of business and comfort, Elizabeth thought as she composed herself from her all-encompassing orgasm. He has no time to think of such lowly things as pleasing me.