A Walk in Victoria’s Secret
If an infant could speak, he would no doubt pronounce the act of sucking
at his mother's breast by far the most important in his life. S. Freud
In an hour, I’ll be lying on the worn-out, mauve-colored couch
in the 30th month of my psychoanalysis, free associating
about the tables of brassieres in Victoria’s Secret, & how I love
to wander there, touching the cranberry and puce-colored slips of silky polyester,
fingering the diminutive, twinned flags of cups and straps, imagining
the privileged, frivolous lives they’ll enter. Gently, my analyst might ask me
to recall the name of my mother’s mother – Victoria! – and I’ll make
the connection, and proceed to ruminate upon the hard, closed facts
of her private life. I’ll speak of her breasts (which I never saw) the image
incongruous among this merchandise: the bustiers gratuitous with champagne-
colored lace, the hot pink, underwired, front-clasping bras, the gelatin-enhanced
heavyweighted cups for women craving more…
The scratchy, dusty-smelling upholstery of the couch will turn me
petulant, as usual , and I’ll back up. Mentally, of course, condemning
the girly-girliness of Victoria’s Secret, professing my feminist admiration
for the Phallic Mother that Freud imagined he was first to discover
-- the mother who wore her breasts like a matching pair of penises,
grandiosely assigning to herself the prerogatives of patriarchy,
claiming herself and her tits as her personal subject, and charging
through the world as empowered as Demeter. I love how the Phallic Mother
gets things done, undeterred by the “unfeminine” cast of maternal rage.
Still, I can’t resist the lure of the totally objectified un-phallic mother –
the one who exists in a creaturely daze, solely for the pleasure
of the yearning Other. Thus, I drag my hands through the palpable eros
of Victoria’s Secret, re-visioning, no doubt, the brief paradise
of my mother’s “breast” – a series of rubber nipples affixed to the end
of a boiled glass bottle, and rigidly administered on an hourly schedule.
Any history of my own life would start there, of course, and proceed
through brutal weaning: overnight, the nipple retired, and the hard rim
of a metal cup replaced it in my mouth. In certain moods, upon the couch,
I can feel the murky, ancient outlines of that yearning infant, her mouth
working the bad calculus of early withdrawal, her undeveloped mind all
in a whirl, unable to satisfy the desire to suck…
I love smelly, sweaty breasts bound down in practical spandex to contract the orb’s circumference and inhibit unbalancing jiggling in order to win an Olympic Gold
or to swing, unimpeded, the number nine club on the eighteenth hole,
three under par, in the previously closed-to-women national Open…
And then there’s the miracle of lactating breasts with their stretched nipples
and swollen globes of succulent flesh, the skin thinned at the sides,
raising the blue veins to the surface so it looks like a map.
I love breasts fastened into nursing bras with their flip-down
cups, the tits jutting out hilariously like coarse characters
in a Vegas strip show. I love the historical breasts of the milk nurse
who took up the noblewoman’s babe and suckled it for wages.
And the furtively, thrust-through breasts, warming the iron bars
of the debtor’s prison where the inmate took his comfort
from his mother or his wife. I love proletarian/redneck/sensible shoes/24-7/
workaday breasts, cheerfully spewing full course meals or midnight snacks,
or fast food, drive-thru repasts while speeding down the interstate.
I love the milky nu-nu stuffed in the mouth to plug up the titty baby’s untimely yowl.
Last night, I watched my sons on the O-line of the football field,
so distant in their grown up bodies, so far from mother’s milk.
To remind them now of the meals they made of me would mortify
and unman them, so I keep that silence. Afterwards, I embraced them
in their helmets and their pads, and leaned hard into the rank,
erotic fragrance they emitted, yearning to return to our early years together,
when I was hardly more to them than a universe of approaching odor,
a twin-hulled, human spaceship rocketing across a galaxy
with my bursting, squirting cargo of warm, sweet milk…
I loved the smell inside my nursing bra. I used to dip my face inside,
and breathe, and pull away, feeling drunk solidarity with my hungry baby.
I loved the sodden thunk of soaked nursing pads flung to the floor.
I loved the oily, thin taste of my own milk.
I loved my husband’s mouth, in the dark, relieving the pressure.
I loved the mounting. My baby mounting his objects of desire,
and making them run with milk, sucking out the cream,
raising the heat and falling back, drunk and gluttonous,
post-coital, on the sweaty, smelly pillow of my flesh.
Now that it’s all over, now that my breasts are diminished and dried out
and will never run with milk again –
Now that my nipples are like those of a grammar school virgin,
and look like raisins dessicated past their prime –
Now that the specter of cancer of the breast is statistically more
than a distant possibility –
Now, that two empty bottles in the window above my writing desk,
once filled and refilled with Holman’s Dairy milk, permanently
remind me of my former glory and gleam straight through
with absence I need only touch my chest to imagine –
Now I walk through the radiance of Victoria’s Secret, drunk with the ghostly,
concave images of all those robust breasts, waiting to be suckled and cupped.
In her barely literate way, my mother’s mother must have meditated
on the dual mysteries of every woman’s breasts that Freud, in his genius,
almost ruined: the sweet delight of a baby’s nursing, and the harder-edges
of the pleasure delivered by a moaning lover’s sucking mouth.
Far back in the previous century, I have conjured Victoria. I can
see her after supper, leaning over the dishpan in the kitchen sink, her mind
blessedly free of psychoanalysis. She pumps a basin full of cold, clear water,
and opens the front of her gingham dress, and lifts her beauties
from the thick white bindings of her homemade bra.
Leaning awkwardly, she dips them down and dabs them with a roughened,
dripping cloth. All day, her man has labored in the fields. In a corner
of their room, his dungarees crouch in crusted piles of stench as he falls, exhausted
on their bed. Even so, tunneling at the very edge of sleep, he moves towards her
for a tiny sip of sweetness, a sugary lozenge of buttery candy, he pulls into his mouth.
Now energy pulses him distantly, back in time, until he becomes
his very own, newborn baby. All’s delightfully confused. Who is he now?
The child he put inside her belly two years back? Or his ancient, infant self
at ease upon the paradise of his mother’s breast? And she, the phoenix nesting
on her bed of self-extinction, is sucked away deliciously. She’s an object,
for the moment, experienced as subject: the breaking yolk of warmth between her legs,
the untidy buzzing rush of hormones in her head, the milk rising and rising,
breaking so exquisitely the unanalyzable mystery of flesh.