Jack’s Naughty Bits: William Kennedy, Ironweed

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Jack's Naughty Bits

this be said: I have tasted many of the joys under heaven and found none more reliably
luscious than the kiss. Fragile yet potent, combustible, tangy, pushpull and eminently
expressive, the kiss has all the upsides of sex and none of the mess. The kiss is a Trojan
horse of intimacy, so seemingly innocent, so licit, yet so gut-wrenching, soul-speaking
and endorphin-firing at the same time. I am a kiss junkie; I love to kiss, I kiss to love, I’m
constantly trying to steal women away from conversations to secret them into back
bedrooms for some serious necking. And every once in a while, it actually works.


My first real kiss came behind the storage sheds next to the junior high school football
field. A year or two later, I got one from a popular girl; it was shocking both because I was
the most loathed kid in the school, and because her mouth was large enough to encircle
mine completely. I mentioned this fact to a “friend,” and he told two friends, and they told
two friends, and soon she was cursing me through the halls of the school, lowering my
social status even further. A more felicitous early kiss came in high school, at the behest of
the costume designer for the school play, whose lips had the incomparable collapsing effect
of a ziplocked bag of pudding (where are you now, darling? Where are you?). The most
bittersweet was a single, slow-planted dream smooch from an angelic beauty who,when I
asked her some days later if it was a fluke, said that it most assuredly was. She died in her
teens, and that one kiss was all I knew, yet I will never forget her.


Later life has not ceased to provide me still more astonishing meetings of lips, and many
lessons to learn from them. Some women kiss you because that’s as far as they’ll go;
others kiss you to decide if they’ll go further. An experienced friend laughed at me when I
told her I still occasionally have bad sex, saying that I should know from the first kiss how
it will work out. She’s right of course, so now I try to kiss, dance with and see the SATs
of all prospective girlfriends before things get serious. The kissing, ultimately, is the most
important indicator, for kisses are the vehicle for the joy of fresh infatuation, yet remain a
reservoir of warmth as even the oldest loves grow older. And in their ultimate role, kisses
can provide indelible proof of love itself. That is the theme of the excerpt below, from
William Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Ironweed.

* * *  

From Ironweed by William Kennedy

But then you get [a kiss] like that first whizzer on Kibbee’s lumber pile, one that comes
out of the brain and the heart and the crotch, and out of the hands on your hair, and out of
those breasts that weren’t all the way blown up yet, and out of the clutch them arms give
you, and out of time itself, which keeps track of how long it can go on without you gettin’
even slightly bored the way you got bored years later with kissin’ almost anybody but
Helen, and out of fingers (Katrina had fingers like that) that run themselves around and
over your face and down your neck, and out of the grip you take on her shoulders,
especially on them bones that come out of the middle of her back like angel wings, and out
of them eyes that keep openin’ and closin’ to make sure that this is still goin’ and still real
and not just stuff you dream about and when you know it’s real it’s okay to close ’em
again, and outa that tongue, holy shit, that tongue, you gotta ask where she learned that
because nobody ever did that except Katrina who was married with a kid and had a right to
know, but Annie, goddamn, Annie, where’d you pick that up, or maybe you been
gidzeyin’ heavy on this lumber pile regular (No, no, no, I know you never, I always knew
you never), and so it is natural with a woman like Annie that the kiss come out of every
part of her body and more, outa that mouth  . . . and he sees well beyond the mouth into a
primal location in this woman’s being, a location that evokes in him not only the memory
of years but decades and even more, the memory of epochs, aeons, so that he is sure that
no matter where he might have sat with a woman and felt this way, whether it was in
some ancient cave or some bogside shanty, or on a North Albany lumber pile, he and she
would both know that there was something in each of them that had to stop being one and
become two, that had to swear that forever after there would never be another (and there
never has been, quite), and that there would be allegiance and sovereignty and fidelity and
other such tomfool horseshit that people destroy their heads with when what they are
saying has nothing to do with time’s forevers but everything to do with the simultaneous
recognition of an eternal twain, well sir, then both of them, Francis and Annie, or the
Francises and Annies of any age, would both know in that same instant that there was
something between them that had to stop being two and become one.


Such was the significance of that kiss.

© William Kennedy