As my English 203 class starts to read through Percival Everett’s poetry book re: f (gesture), I can’t help but notice how eloquently Everett can make intimate topics sound…not too dirty. In the book we’ve moved on from Zulus and now we have crossed over to poems about the Body. Percival Everett takes us through the more vulnerable body parts, such as the copora cavernosa, the tunica vaginalis and the labia majora. The way Everett describes these intimate parts in such detail, that at times one might not know what he’s even describing, the fluid language he uses creating a mirage over the topic at hand. I have to admit that at times when I was reading through the poems, I often found myself blushing from the sexual nature each piece of writing takes us through, and I appreciated it. A topic that can be considered so taboo-the human body, and Everett is here, writing this beautiful book of poetry and embracing parts that aren’t visible to the human eye.
In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Everett continues his way of writing about sexual experiences, not so much batting an eye as he describes Not Sidney receiving a blowjob from his teacher. “Hormones got the better of me and I began to swell, at least my penis did, but before I could get completely hard she’d start in with her teeth and my organ would retreat. It went like that for bit, back and forth, pleasure and pain, arousal and repulsion, erection and deflation (Everett 36).” Everett takes this scene and writes it in such a way that the reader is reacting as they flip through the pages; no matter the reaction, the bluntness of this paragraph would cause some kind of emotion. And that is what we get when reading Body in re: f (gesture).
The Labia Majora in medical terms is the lateral boundaries of the vulval or pudendal cleft, which receives the openings of the vagina and the urethra. Pretty standard, necessary for the female body and yet when Percival Everett writes about it, he makes it seem different and almost beautiful in a sense. “Downward from the mons Veneris to the anterior boundary, they are cutaneous folds, salient, enclosing, each with two faces; outer-pigmented, covered by crisp hairs, inner-smooth beset with sebaceous follicles…” Everett is technical with his word choices and yet paints a picture for the reader, taking something that could be considered minor in the body and placing it on a pedestal with its own poem. Almost as if we should be paying more attention to it.
The poem Orbicularis Palpebrarum in Body is about the muscle that helps close the eye, something that sounds so simple and one we might not think about because it’s a function that you do hundreds of times a day-blinking. However, Everett once again twists it around and crafts yet another form of writing that makes one sit back and think for a hot second-because was it really just about a muscle in the eye? “Lend us a wink, she says, give us a wink, with that little sphincter muscle about your eye. Wrap around the ball, around the lid, from the frontal bone, from nasal process. Thin and pale, concentrically curving, covering the eyelids, surrounding the orbit. Send us a wink, thicker now, with that sphincter, with that muscle around the looking.” In this poem there is a heavy flirtatious tone added to the text, and when I read it for the first time I got so caught up in the “she says” that I momentarily forgot this was about an eyeball. Who is she? Why was she important to mention if this is a poem about a muscle? What is the bigger picture?
I have learned in these past few months of reading Percival Everett’s works that there is always a bigger picture-no matter how basic and nonchalant it may seem. The detail he uses provides context in areas that one might get lost in, an example shown in the poem Palmar Fascia which is the palm of your hand. “Squeeze unconsciously when I am a baby, give gently when I am a man, control my thumb. Let my greeting be broad and expansive, firm and protect my bones which break so easily.” As I read through this poem I got lost for a moment because of where he took it, but upon breaking through the smokescreen of what Everett wanted us to see first-I put the pieces together and honestly stared at my hand for a minute afterwards. I really enjoy how his writing makes me feel things, different emotions at a single time because it is important to know and understand what you are receiving-no matter what you might be reading.