from “Hothead” by Stephen Cushman

Image from medical textbook published in Berne, Switzerland, 1776 / Public domain

And here I thought blow smoke up your ass was a figurative fig leaf,

slang to suss, an edifying idiom not for everyone in Idaho, but no,

scout’s honor, it’s literal, late eighteenth century into nineteenth,

tobacco smoke enemas, used to infuse fumes into rectums, recta, correction,

slip in the tube, let’s hope it’s lubed, warm it up too, leads to a fumigator

and bellows with handles, pump, pump, how’s that, a tool they employed

not for looseness an enema induces, but to revive the nearly drowned,

almost worth it, history’s hysterical, if not in one sense then in another,

time for an interlude, something less crude, rude, or lewd,

okay but first let’s talk about rhyme, people don’t like it,

the natural crowd, say it’s too fake, they’re beyond fake,

how happy for them, but back at the fake ranch with all the fake rakes

we’re making progress, we do it like this, we rhyme all the time,

not at the ends of little lines only, about as much fun as honey let’s do it

only on Tuesdays at 3:56, you catch the drift, only on Tuesdays at 3:56

is a fine time to rhyme, bed down a couplet, but if it’s good then,

then it’s good often, better in fact, if one’s got the stamina, let’s let a raver

flavor the quaver of savory favors, read Kama Sutra

as prosody manual, then start again, each word a partner,

each sound a move, if people in bed are lifeless

as lines that forget how to play, fool with this, press firmly on that,

who wants to mess with them, tighten your belt, the chastity one,

punch another hole in it, better no bed than bad bed or boredom.



What shall we do? tough-ass question, stall for more time, ask it in Spanish,

¿qué haremos? how cool is that, a question mark that’s upside down,

eroteme, head over heels, let’s get off to the proper start, don’t make us wait

till the end of the phrase to learn it’s a question, tell us right off,

like playing charades, this one’s a question, ready or not, coming your way,

stall for more time, consider the query, how it’s framed, when you consider

the frame like this, ¿?, are you thinking what I’m now thinking,

eroteme, learned it today, looked it up, interviewed neighbors, just routine,

background check, same as the cops, but look at this Chief, living upstairs

on the line above, erostrate, lacking a beak, know how that feels, file away,

then comes our gang, erotema, erotesis, erotetic, a quiver of questionings,

one theory has it the mark marks the tone, intonation ascending, ever so gently,

another proposes q as an origin, q as in quaestiō, are you thinking

what I’ve been thinking, if not, why not, look once again, ¿?,

rising intonation, what’s more arousing, let us go down

to the very next entry, you got it, erotic, so now here’s the question,

¿is this merely an alphabet accident, erotetic on top of old erotic, or is there

more here than meets the ear?, correction, revise, is what’s meeting

the ear here a case of likeness that’s linking, the mating of lusting

with ordinary asking, background check on eros, run it: uncertain origin,

well that makes sense, what’s more uncertain than eros’s origin,

lusting for knowledge, I get it now, heated curiosity

asks for it always, how many types of questions are there,

rhetorical, essay, multiple-choice, leading, implied, yes-or-no,

is there anything out of the question?



Stephen Cushman is the author of the poetry collections The Redlist: A Poem, Riffraff, Cussing Lesson, and Blue Pajamas and the nonfiction book Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle. He is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia.