THE WRITING OF HARLOTS
Someone had written it on the bricks
outside of Mrs. Cunningham's 5th grade class
in big ugly letters: CARY EATS HOLLY’S CUNT.
But of course the letters themselves weren't ugly,
it was the words—it was that word—and the letters
were only made to look ugly by association,
the way Holly was made ugly by association
with that sentence. It was a complete sentence,
a perfectly grammatical sentence whose subject
Cary was. But while Cary was a subject familiar to us
(he sat behind me in Mrs. Cunningham's class),
that object was less familiar, and that verb,
though familiar, was unfamiliar in that context,
at least to most of us, if not all of us, who filed past it
into Mrs. Cunningham's class that morning,
already knowing much, desiring to learn more.
But nothing more was said about that word
or that sentence on that day in Mrs. Cunningham's class,
or the next day, or the next. And before we could
grasp it, or parse it, or know it at all, it disappeared,
or almost disappeared—we could still just
make out its skeleton, the faint ghosts of the letters,
after Tony our custodian did his best
to expunge it with a wire scrub-brush and bucket.
But who was responsible for it? That was
the question on everyone’s mind and on everyone's
lips, except for Mrs. Cunningham’s lips,
which never formed a word about that word,
or that sentence. But if she wasn't responsible
for telling us what it was, or what it meant,
or where it came from and why, then who was?
In time, of course, in our separate ways, we would all
learn what it was, what it meant, and where it
comes from and why. But who among us can say
he learned it in a way that didn't feel ugly
or illicit? Who among us can say he was taught
that it comes from beauty, or the desire for beauty?
Paul reads "The Writing of Harlots":
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Paul confesses: "The title comes from the literal meaning of the Greek word 'pornographia'. The poem comes from what somebody wrote on the wall outside of Mrs Cunningham's 5th grade class when I was 10 years old, and where it came from. And where it comes from."