Image taken by Flickr user Athena's Pix

—The kiss while night-swimming. He placed his beer on the pool’s lip, then pulled me into his. This particular flavor happened only once, but I’ll wager that, on the scale of kiss-taste, a freshly smoked Marlboro followed by a swig of Bud in a pool in the chlorinated dark still ranks pretty high.

—Through a chain link. Soccer field. Drummer in a punk band.

What is a kiss but two eels grappling for dominance in a cave of spit?

—When my firstborn was a baby, I kinda-sorta-Frenched her. It was nothing I had planned on. Curled around her tiny body, snuggling and tickling, I was flesh-drunk the way you can only get on baby, on baby’s baby breath, I was kissing her chins and her cheeks and her tiny soft lips which parted and for the briefest of moments we soul-kissed.

—The one with the boy from the next town. I’d met him on my sixteenth birthday in line at the DMV. He said I was pretty and asked for my number. I’d never felt so grown up in my life. He drove me to a lake with a boathouse and, once inside, he began to lick me, these little lapping licks, like the waves lapping at the pier. I’m pretty sure I just stood there and took it, then asked to go home. The next time he called I asked my sister to tell him I’d been sent to boarding school. She did it, but charged me thirty minutes of back scratching.

—After snowmobiling in Wisconsin. His lips were so chaffed that they cracked mid-kiss and I swallowed his blood. I thought this would end up meaning more than it did.

—When I was twenty-two and living in the Czech Republic, there was no loneliness like mine. Sitting on the rim of the fountain in the crowded square, I heard a commotion behind me. Before I could turn, something slicked the back of my neck—the oyster of bird droppings?—and then the skinny back of a Romani (“Gypsies,” I’d been warned by the Czechs, “all thieves”) sprinted past, his hoot lingering after his boot soles flashed around the corner.
I’m twice the age that I was then, and still sometimes I wonder–was it an insult? Some fumbled flirtation, followed by panic? A dare among friends? Or a distraction that should have ended with my wallet missing from my bag?

Here I sit, twice-my-life-away, puckered, still responding to that kiss.

Strange that after all the lips, various, frequently delicious, mostly unremembered, the forbidden kiss is the one I gave my daughter.

—The one with the girl. I kissed her not for her sake, or my own, but for the boys who were egging us on. Were I again presented with her tiny red mouth, I’d do better.

—Strange that after all the lips, various, frequently delicious, mostly unremembered, the forbidden kiss is the one I gave my daughter. Fourteen years ago I wrote a poem about it. After it was reprinted on Poetry Daily, the editor told me they’d received some interesting feedback. Which meant, apparently, hate emails, all, apparently, from women. They shamed me. I printed and filed them in a folder marked “Hateful Things.”

Recently, coming across them, I found them funny. Maybe, I thought—for this is how the world ripens us–maybe the women would, too.

—What is a kiss but two eels grappling for dominance in a cave of spit? Best not to over-think it.

—My grad school boyfriend had a mustache and beard. He was my first. Mustache and beard, I mean. I didn’t think I’d like all that facial hair but I was wrong, way wrong. I could kiss him for hours, the halo of scratchy hair making the central hot-soft even hot-softer.

But then came the month when we couldn’t make rent, so he got a job delivering for Pizza Hut. Which was a spectacularly bad idea. He had no sense of direction and got lost in Fayetteville’s hill-hugging curves, so his pizzas were reliably late and cold. Tipping actually was just a city in China. Within three months he’d get rear-ended by a bozo without insurance, then get fired before he had a chance to quit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I wanted to tell you: drivers had to be clean-shaven. It was policy.

Before his first shift, he took a razor from its package. He entered the bathroom hirsute, and exited… wrong. He looked wrong. I kissed him goodbye and the kiss, too, was wrong, all wrong. He could tell. Now he felt even worse. He slumped on the bed with his red, scraped jowls. “Wait a minute,” I told him, inspired, “I’ll be right back.” In the bathroom I took his razor and shaved “down there,” shaved off every single hair. I thought it would be a turn-on for him, for us both, but I didn’t feel sexy. Not at all. I looked like a child, like a dented Barbie. Now we were in it together, broke, depressed, slumped, razor-burned, and bald-jowled.

Reader, I married him.

Maybe, at the end, there will be a reckoning of kisses.

—Today is our daughter’s fifteenth birthday. These days, she and I rarely kiss.

—Maybe, at the end, there will be a reckoning of kisses. How many minutes, hours lip-locked? How many days did you clock, breathing someone’s cycled air? Maybe all the great theologians and philosophers were wrong. Maybe what we’re asked is this: were you a waste of breath?


The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.

The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers is available from Norton in February 2018.

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly directs the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi where she was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year. She’s won grants and wards from the NEA, United States Artists, a Fulbright to Brazil, and a Pushcart. Fennelly has published three books of poetry and one of nonfiction, all with W. W. Norton, and a novel co-authored with her husband, Tom Franklin. She’s currently finishing a collection of micro-memoirs. Here is her 3-minute film: “The Kudzu Chronicles.”

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