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The Origins of the Kiss

Patricia Young

I wish to speak of origins:
the snail's caress, its antennae and the roots
growing deep in the earth.

I wish to speak of the duck's bill,
guillemots nibbling each other's feet,
the pose of any feathered thing.

I have traced the kiss to Semitic antiquity,
beyond Africa and its asexual wild grasses.
Homer scarcely knew it, the Greek poets seldom mentioned

the kiss though it took the rest of Europe
by surprise. In Lapland
the kiss was the center of gravity,

you planted it just below the navel where a pool
of sex-water lay. In Celtic tongues
there was no word for it and so I sat alone

in a farmhouse trying to invent
a name. The Welsh kissed
only on special occasions, at a game

called Carousel. Whenever there is rope-playing
there is also moonlight, and then one
came to me, shaped like a beet or pear.

Throughout East Asia the kiss was unknown,
in Japanese literature pleasure was intense.
The kiss has always been alive

in the ravings of schizophrenics, reveries
of satyrs—a theta wave in the alchemist's brain.
During lovemaking the Tamils licked each other's eyelids.

I wish to speak of such tenderness, the wisdom
inherent in voluptuous acts.
In the light of Palestine the kiss grew

in the incandescent spaces between olives trees.
Among early Christians: of sacramental significance—
kiss the relic of a saint, foot of the pope.

In Rome the kiss was a sign of reverence
and so the erotic possibilities did not become
flesh. Was it

the terrible kiss of God
that caused the virgins of Central Russia to lose
consciousness and turn into

dock leaves? In Borneo
nose-pressing was the kiss of welcome and of mourning.
Arabian deities were easily uncaged

when about to receive kisses. Powerful
the impulse and yet some thought it cannibalistic.
Among the hill tribes of India: olfactory,

nose to cheek, smell me, they said.
Mothers of the Niger coast rubbed
their babies with their lips,

lovers did not. And the great unlit
kiss that feeds on mud at the bottom of the lake!
I wish to speak of the mammal's bite

and the hunger inside me, for every human infant.
Watch them. Their small fists
bringing each detail up to their mouths.

Patricia Young's works copyright © to the author.

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