“Well, what does sex mean to you?” he asked. I laughed. Kyle repeated the question, “Seriously,” he said.

We were young and 20, saddled up next to each other in my twin bed. The metallic frame chirped as he propped up on his elbow and stared at me. I stared at my ceiling, the textured drywall, the swirls in pale green. My bedroom in Pittsburgh was different from my bedroom at home where my mother and I had painted the walls a bluish green, sycamore.

“You’re tense,” Kyle said and then began typing his coarse fingers along my forearm. When I took his hand in mine and guided him to softer longer strokes, he pressed harder.

It was only our second date but I felt as if I were always playacting with Kyle, like I had to adhere to a script. In the past, when I’d told people that I had never had sex before (not for religious reasons, just because), it was never a big deal. But Kyle seemed to think that it was, which was why we had stopped. It made me nervous. I had sprung it on him; that much was true. Surely, I owed him that. More… “Geography”



It’s that time of year when you see the racks of oddly configured swaths of cloth hanging in the front of stores. Bathing suits: absurd, wrong-headed garments. I continue to be mystified by how people continue to buy and wear them.

It’s a given that women of a certain age don’t like the way they look in bathing suits. The comic strip Cathy has made this a seasonal riff. But the cartoon misses the point in linking problems with bathing suits to female vanity. It’s not about vanity; it’s about modesty. Not about looking fat but about being naked.

Even as a child, I understood this. As I ran under the sprinkler in my electric orange two-piece, I knew that it was one thing for me, with my hairless legs and flat chest, to wear such a scanty,… More…


Not since Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch have readers and critics had such a Rorschach test for their body issues as this year’s novel Wetlands. Charlotte Roche has said in interviews that she was horrified at how women were treating their bodies and wanted to shock readers into confronting their need for perfection — the waxing, the bleaching, the plastic surgery, the designer jeans. Critics have thrown fits, calling Roche’s tale of a sexually adventurous, body-loving, completely-oblivious-to-social-conventions woman profane and irrelevant and unladylike. Others are labeling the book’s protagonist a post-feminist heroine, which is also sort of missing the point.

It’s not a great book, to be sure. The plot is just a flimsy thing designed to link together one tale of (dirty, disgusting, disturbing — take your pick) sex and bodily exploration after another. She tastes all… More…


I’m trying to lose some weight. Do you know of a poem that can help me? — Candice P., Newport, Rhode Island

A poem to help in the short term, by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser:

“Sometimes my big front teeth bite my lower lip and my food gets all bloody…”

Maybe that will gross you out and you won’t be able to eat for a while. Write it down and put it in your pocket, and if you ever have the urge to overeat, read it.

A poem to help in the long-term, by Robert Phillips:

Instrument of Choice

She was a girl no one ever chose for teams or clubs, dances or dates,

so she chose the instrument no one else wanted: the tuba. Big as herself, heavy as her heart,

its golden tubes and coils… More…