Jill and I often share our dreams with one another. No matter what my dream is about, Jill somehow manages to find a penis in it. I always argue against the supposed penis symbolism and she ends the discussion with "Well, I'm just saying." Not too long ago I dreamed Jill was planning a nice surprise for me. We were in a shed and she wanted to serenade me karaoke-style to a Red Hot Chili Pepper's song. It wasn't a song I was particularly fond of, but I didn't tell her that. I only had one request: that she didn't pee all over the floor when she sang it. Jill agreed.
Jill Alexander Essbaum's most recent books include Necropolis (NeoNuma Arts, 2008) and Harlot (No Tell Books, 2007).
Reb: The cover of your third book, Harlot, has a nekkid lady embracing a giant penis. Why a nekkid lady embracing a giant penis? Are you some kind of obsessed penis pervert? Or do you consider readers of poetry to be obsessed penis perverts?
Jill: Well, Rebecca, I could dance around that question in various and very lusty ways. I could say that the cover—a lovely watercolor by the talented Cynthia Large—aggressively and accurately represents the core theme of the book, which is a woman's (read: mine) desperation to be connected to the archetypal masculine. How she seems to be holding onto the shaft for dearest life because, in fact, the penis is the fount of dearest life, a spigot of magical elixirs. How if she loosens her hold for even a moment, she might spin out into the ether, untethered and forever lost. And the naked lady herself—as round and voluptuous as any raven-haired fertility goddess. This is all quite true. But when the pot boils down to its residue, what's left is this: Absolutely I am some kind of obsessed penis pervert. I like cock. A lot.
Jill: I've been recently meditating on the following memory: When I was 7 or so years old, I was cast in a Sunday School play. The plot of the drama is lost to the hum of the distant past, but it was some sort of morality play, the churchy equivalent of Goofus and Gallant, probably. The teacher cast me as "Lady of the Evening." The subtext of the role was, of course, lost on my seven-year-old self, but I quite understood the following: that I got to wear a shiny, satin kimono, smoke a candy cigarette, and shashay through the acts of the play swirling an empty highball glass in the air before me. Of course I realized that I was intended to serve as the bad example, but that didn't matter. I was sold.
A second early memory, from about the same time. It's a dream: I am dressed in the white pinafore of Disney's Alice and holding onto a fireman's pole (stop it) that penetrated (no, really, stop it) the ceiling and the floor of the hallway of the house of my childhood. Above, Christ and his angels are urging me upward. Below me, the Devil and his demons are grabbing for my heels, trying to pull me into hell.
Flash forward thirty years and I'm still dressing up in lady-of-the-evening-wear, and I'm still holding onto the pole (see answer to first question). Is it such a strange paradox? In ancient times there were such creatures as temple prostitutes, women whose charge—nay, calling—it was to honor the gods through sexual congress.
And, it might be worth noting, the words venerate and venereal share the same root.
Reb: When are you going to ditch poetry and write something people want to read?
Jill: I'd sooner ditch poetry and become a mail carrier. As Robert Townsend reminds us in his classic film, Hollywood Shuffle, "There's always work at the Post Office." I like walking and would look damn cute in a pith helmet and knee-length shorts. I'd love to be your sexy post woman. I'd deliver!