Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Ode to the Penis

Sharon Olds

Someone told me that what I write
about men is objectifying. So I ask you,
O general idea of the penis, do you mind
being noticed? You who stand, in the mind—
erect and not, old and young—
for all your representations, O abstract
principle, haven’t you maybe been
waiting for your turn to be sung? I think
you’re lovely and brave, and so interesting, you are
like a creature, with your head, and trunk,
as if you have a life of your own. But you are
innocent, you are not your own man,
you are no more responsible for your actions,
than the matter of the brain for its thoughts. And you’ve had a mixed
history—you’ve been taken into
carnage, as the instrument
of it, and you yourself have been played
to produce the desperate screams. Often
you have not been protected, nor been used to protect,
and oft not been respected, nor wielded
to respect. And yet most of your history
has been spent in joy. And I wonder how it
has felt, being so adored as you have been,
and feared. And what is it like, for you—if you could
look down, from your Platonic cloud
of categories—when two of you
are engaged together, or married—yourself
primed, yourself to your own power?
And being a concept, are you smart, do you know
you’re equal to your sister concept,
and even that you came from her,
back at the invention of the separate male—
the ovaries heavying down toward the earth,
the organ of orgasm growing and growing.
I cannot imagine you, from within—but as a
sage said of a god, I do not want
to be sugar, I want to taste sugar!
But that’s just my heteromania talking,
and you’re not homo or hetero—or visible
or manifest, you do not exist
except as an imaginary quorum
of all your instances. So I’m not
flirting with you, I’m just saying
I like you—not as an object but
a subject, a prime mover, a working
theory of plumbing and ecstasy,
a boy’s pride and anxiety,
windsock of zephyr and gale, half
of the equation of creation.