Jan 082013

Jane Eaton Hamilton painting 2

What I thought when I read this poem: My God we have stopped writing about sex as sex, the joy of flesh and play and excitement. In my cultural stupor, I had not noticed. But Jane Eaton Hamilton has reminded me, cracking open the great epic theme of the body once again. We need more like this.

Jane is an old friend, closing in on 20 years now since we met in Saratoga Springs one summer. I put one of her stories in 1991 edition of Best Canadian Stories, back when I still edited that estimable volume. She earlier contributed a short story called “Bird Nights” to these pages. She is a prolific artist, a poet, fiction writer, essayist, painter (the female nude above is a Jane Eaton Hamilton painting). “Sleepless” is an extraordinary love poem, a frank and passionate poem about sex between women. You need not look here for titillation. Rather what Jane Eaton Hamilton offers is wonder, and a raw, real, rhythmic, sensual, earthy paean to physical love, love incarnate in the act. It’s a deeply honest and observant poem, and sometimes even funny. “…what I call Exorcist sex where I struggled back to reality and my head/was on backwards…”

You also get Jane reading the poem (click the sound player and listen while you read the poem) which is a delight (and she has always wanted to be a voice-over artist). I listened again this morning to the reading of the poem and it’s lovely, eerie, and very beautiful, Jane’s voice coming out of the ether, the language and rhythms of the poem, the returns, the little jokes in the midst of passion and sex — so intimate, Jane’s voice not straining to project, almost whispering.





We did not sleep and were made insane by it, and loved the stupidity
after years of girdled hearts—gads, it was just the thing
all that rutting, our senses electrified wires
honeyed bee stings, sparks, slow sinking mudslicks—sex
meted out in silken slaps on a slow summer landscape of skin
Skin the most extraordinary vehicle—more to us than Lamborghinis or
Ecosse cycles; more than soaring through cerulean skies.  Skin was
licked, bitten, scorched, smoothed, twisted, puckered, rubbed raw
hickeyed, blown on, finger-tipped, surprised, heated, cooled, exalted
Every time we fucked it was a brand new thing.  Brand new, I say
like a cotelydon leaf through spring soil, like starlight each brimming night
that is as old as time but seems born
Every time we fucked it was a spank of newness, groundbreaking
Her voice rose in mewls and murmurs and mine was a hosanna
a liturgical worship—  Did we hear a choir of lesbians?
Cries and exclamations and groans and caught breath and occasional
exhortations of pain as leg cramps or ovaries knocked or a
nipple tweaked past good pain.  Let me talk about
my lover’s frankness, the way she opened me as an orange
stripping off bumpy rind, the way she peeled me and exposed me
so I came apart in sections juicy and dripping through her hands
encompassing everything, my head thrown back, my throat rippling
power, how she asked me show her fucking myself
I stopped time for that. Wouldn’t you?  Fuck, wouldn’t you?
Masturbating naked on her deck in the sunshine
my skin sweated and hot and prickling with burn while she watched
hungry-eyed, slack-jawed, wanting, taking it in
Fuck, if you could, wouldn’t you stop everything
and just–

And besides that, the first thing—
(It wasn’t the first thing
but neither of us kept notes … the actual first thing was
the moon fingering shadows through arbutus leaves
while my lover lifted her Folk Fest t-shirt
and I moved like silk behind her, my breasts globular and firm and
ran my tongue up the bones of her spine, bump, valley,
bump, valley and so on.  Before a kiss, I mean
[I seriously mean that—before a kiss], or even, the next night in another town
weeping against her, sobbing for the cruelties that are illness)
–her fist struggled to fit inside me, slow lubed penetration, agonizingly sweet
and harsh.  My cunt which can at times become a balloon, a hollow, filling
with this woman’s richest tactility, her 27 bones, her 14 phalanges,
opisthenar, knuckles, and began to–  She began
interphalangeal articulations.  I mean she began to move
against my tissue, my red leaking bruised flesh, she began a
postural rotation, I mean her wrist turned  and I reached to feel her there
fisting me, and I could see her move inside me by watching above my
pelvic bone outside me, the shape of her fingers almost visible
and I was gobsmacked, really gobsmacked, that a woman
was taking me like that, punching me, if you will, if you go where
bdsm goes (which we didn’t—we did not, that, quite).  I arched my back and
began to ululate and roll my eyes back in my head as she
flung me over Saturn like an extra moon, like Titan.  I was all head
and no head at the same time, blown like gunshot, blown like
an intellect erupting into space.  Eventually everything ends, and when she
slipped out it was the closest thing to childbirth without a baby
and it felt endless and hard-edged and astonishing and I melted
I held her hand; it was soft, humid, hot, and I thought how it was, touching her wrist while it was inside me, I marveled at that–
We were doing everything—it’s not like it stopped there, I mean, would you?—
floral sweetness versus immutable rigidity
hot air huffed into our earlobes, kisses, teeth nipping
we moved our vulvas together, rubbing them fast like itches
laughing and giggling and turning over and over like rolling softballs-
and what I call Exorcist sex where I struggled back to reality and my head
was on backwards.  She had a hickey on her cheek I swear I never put there

Wait.  Pause here.  That’s barely the start.  Barely registering what it was like
on the couch, on the floor, on the beach, on the deck, in the lake with the dive-bombing
turquoise dragonflies and the lily pads and the reeds
All day long, no matter where I went, the bank, the beach
all I saw was her ass, her cunt, her clit, her rough nipples, her kneeling above me
her fingers moving in her own black bush, her palm moving up her ribs
to cradle her spatulate breast, her long thin fingers touching her own nipple
It was colour.  I kept seeing her in blues and I painted her like that.  I saw her in an explosion of oranges and reds and I painted that too.  I kept hearing her as cello music
and I painted that too. I thought of the things that were stop-frame—I sucked my own nipple; I sucked her lavendar cock.  Her tongue was everything
an artist could pray for—articulate.  We went to films until our eyes bled and while I watched, I thought of the soft rounds of her tits moving over the twin globes of my ass.  I thought of the time we fucked under a meteor shower, stars exploding over her head

But also—I spent a lot of time inside her, and the moment when I slipped in her drip
when I entered her elastic vagina, I always gave an ecstatic gasp, a cry of devotion
and then her sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves either gripped me or belled around me, her vagina a spongy muscle, strong, that sucked at me greedily–and I lowered my face to her cunt, that valley between such muscular thighs
the sharp, musky white-peach taste, that salty, tangy, lemony, acidic, musky flesh over hard bone.  The sloppy sound of kissing.  Unhooding her clit and finding that slippery smooth bead, and sucking it
jittering the flit of her clit—but, but–
everything, fuck.  Everything we did soaked into my skin and heart
as if it had bleached me, as if it could reach down through the layers of my epidermis
and mark me and alter me and make me–
We didn’t sleep and we were made crazy by it, lunatical, fresh—every day
was stupidly sunny; even as summer passed and fall began, it wouldn’t rain

— Jane Eaton Hamilton



Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of Hunger, a 2002 collection of short fiction shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley award.  She is also the author of Jessica’s Elevator, Body Rain, Steam-Cleaning Love, and July Nights and Other Stories.  Her books have been shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, the MIND Book Award, The Pat Lowther Award, The VanCity Award and The Ethel Wilson Prize in the BC Book Prizes.

Short pieces, which have appeared in such places as the New York Times, Maclean’s, Canadian Gardening, Fine Gardening, The Globe and Mail and Seventeen magazine as well as in numerous anthologies, have won the CBC Literary Awards, the Yellow Silk fiction award, the Paragraph fiction award, the Event non-fiction award, the Prism International fiction award (twice), the Belles Lettres essay award, the Grain non-fiction award, the This Magazine fiction award and The Canadian Poetry Chapbook Contest.  Stories have appeared in the Journey Prize Anthology and Best Canadian Short Stories, Tarcher Putnam’s The Spirit of Writing: Classic and Contemporary Essays Celebrating the Writing Life, and The Writer’s Presence (Bedford/St.Martin’s USA).  They have been short-listed for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories.


  5 Responses to “Sleepless: Poem — Jane Eaton Hamilton”

  1. Wow….brave, beautiful, fully human and alive yet while looking at and in the body with such raw emotion, the poem somehow lifts its gaze elsewhere, into haunted and unknown places, so that the sex becomes something other than just an act between two lovers, so that it becomes a meditation on Being.

  2. This is extraordinary.

  3. I read this three or four times before I could give you a reply worthy of the work. The topic is brave and difficult and the act of writing this is intensely giving. Your treatment of the topic is brilliant – the language is balanced so delicately between raw emotion and careful description. The painting was a striking contrast to the writing but I liked seeing such different visions of the human body. I admire your work and your talent. Thank you so much.

  4. Thank you, rjfarrell, benjwoodard and Tiara. How kind of you to take the time to comment. I just read the poem for the first time this evening in public, and I think it went over sleeplessly.

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