To those of you who have grown up in (or experienced) evangelical purity culture, I have a poem for you—and a favor to ask. First, I’d like you to read this draft of the poem. Then, I plan to break all the poet rules by cluing you into a little of what I was trying to get at. If the poem resonates with you, I’d like to know why, and if it’s related to what I was actually trying to depict. Thanks, friends!

*

The Animal

The animals pressed up against my skin.

I measured feather, fur, and scale,

arranging their flesh as it met my senses.

I stroked their spines and sides,

wrote on each of them a name, 

tracing their movements and habitats.

*

There go the beasts that creep along the ground,

and the fish that dart and spin through the waters.

And there: The silvered dragon that bursts from the sea,

and the winged bodies that pump and glide across the sky.

*

I felt the brush of an animal I could not name,

its warm breath rising and falling across my shoulder.

I turned my head, but saw no feather, fur, or scale.

*

God? I tasted the name. 

God. I gulped it down,

and my bones became like water.

*

I lifted a hand toward my neck

to search its face, but touched

no cheekbone, mouth, teeth or fang.

*

I felt its eyes on me and the air

between us thinned and fled,

leaving thick flesh, bone within bone;

the dirt, dry and weary, kissed my pores

and became clay.

*

My lungs lurched for wind

as my hip tore from its socket

and my throat became a desert.

*

The tongue of the animal I cannot name

stuck to my jaws, and its mouth sucked

the dust.

*

What was I trying to do? On Facebook and on my blog, I’ve talked about how the "Jesus is my boyfriend" or "god is my spouse" marketing in evangelical purity culture encouraged a sort of disembodied sexuality, especially among girls. It cultivated a divine eroticism by framing god as a spouse/lover, prizing a kind of verbal or textual intimacy with the divine over and against sexual relationships with flesh-and-blood humans.

As I wrote earlier, if an invisible, all-present deity is your spouse and you communicate primarily through writing or speech, your sexuality is mediated largely in non-bodily ways. As evangelical teens, we knew porn was verboten because it was visual and human (looking at porn meant you'd basically cheated on your future spouse). But there wasn't really limitations on the eroticism of the text as long as god was the object of your affection.

The flip side of this is that bodily, human attraction becomes the antithesis of your divine relationship. A human partner is acceptable for procreative and sanctifying purposes, but kind of a rival to god. You can't love them too much or be too attracted--or really anything that could make god jealous.

In this poem, I was trying to tease out some of the emotional implications (sensations?) of a disembodied divine eroticism, without necessarily making a clear judgement call on how/where sexuality intersects with religion or the divine (or whether it should). If this poem hints at something you feel (or have felt) within or in the aftermath of purity culture, I would be interested to know.

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