By Philip Larkin’s famous dictate
sex was invented in 1963,
it must to be the one poem everyone can quote.
At high school : dust for poetry,
Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Manly-Hopkins
Catholic education conservative during my time –
the contentious avoided, ignorance equivalent to innocence
then university, where science rigidly divorced literature.
Larkin was in his 40’s when he penned those words
as was I, when first heard
titillation, and then
memories of an image faded from youth.
An afternoon twenty five summers gone
a generation ago, a man two generations before my own
time lapsed symmetry – parallel comings of age,
in perpendicular economies, half a century separated.
Released by graduation into a celebratory journey
a two wheeled view of my country – a temporary gypsy
at day’s end, cold beer, hot showers, self satisfaction
his, soup kitchens, flour sacks and vicarious misery.
On arrival he seemed to be waiting –
billowing white hair and friendly wave … almost a salute.
Particles of memory arced from dormancy
he had pedalled these same contours, at the same life point.
Faded eyes shine freedom and gaze back on impossible strength
the inmate of age spoke tales implausible, even to the teller.
A head ponders then shakes, disbelieving its own valedictory
being old can’t be imagined he said … “then one day you just are.”
Reverie became aware of vanished attention
– a net curtain drawn by hormonal breeze.
A question begins to be asked – then is redundant – he has seen.
A trailing gaze. Two young women. Skimpy costumes of water.
“Ah you young chaps,”
a sigh subtracted of envy and regret ….
a pause, while propriety is consulted, then grants permission.
He said he was 26 the year of his wedding – 1935,
that he had never kissed or touched a woman, until wed,
knew nothing about men and women, only the mechanics.
a sombre soundbite, “my generation got married for sex. The only way.”
Awkwardness was evicted by a smoker’s cackle,
“get hitched or go without.”
Perhaps Philip Larkin is right, sex was invented in 1963.