resh(wo)man year of high school, I was really inexperienced. Worldly and traveled, yes; knowing in the seedy ways of wo/man, no. You already read the headline and I just opened up with the setting of Freshman Year of High School, so let me just clarify: I did not know what a glory hole was through most of my teenage life.
The facts are fuzzy, but I’m fairly certain I didn’t get a solid concept of what a glory hole is until college. The Sweetest Thing was my fresh(wo)man roommate’s favorite movie, and she and her BFF would play it all the time on her oversized Lego brick of a ThinkPad. (Clearly I was destined for a life of Mac snobbery, even though I didn’t have a Mac at that time.) There was a lot of “Penis Song” and “Do we have time for a movie montage?” and that Yellow Brick Road-Penis in Your Eye scene. So somewhere between the movie’s initial release in the spring of ’02 and my Fall quarter in college, I got it. I understood it for sure.
Upon that eventual, anticlimactic discovery, I must have recognized the grotesqueness of the concept – grotesque, at least, to my suburban American youth mind – and my subconscious just completely repressed an earlier memory. Straight up brought down the guillotine on a connection to a younger experience and how I had actually associated myself with glory holes. Way early on. Before I even knew what they were.
(Also: Guillotine! Mentioned in an essay about glory holes! Ouch.)
In my high school, it was dog eat dog. “Extra credit” wasn’t extra credit. It was entirely requisite and who got the most extra credit was a whole ‘nother performance scale in itself. We cheated well and we cheated badly. It didn’t matter if we got caught, because all the extra credit that everyone did made up for those points.
Minus Charles Dickens (WHO IS THE WORST), I must have really enjoyed 9th Grade Honors English because I remember it so vividly. For whatever reason, I would often eat my lunch during Silent Reading, which was after the designated lunch period, and I don’t really know what I was doing during Lunch but it was probably something innocuous like letter writing for Amnesty International. I can picture the croissant sandwiches that my mom made for me. No croissant sandwich has tasted the same since, no combination of Costco pastry + mayonnaise + lettuce + ham + bread n’ butter chips even comes close. I can taste it every time I think of Fahrenheit 451.
I would eat my sandwich and read my 9th Grade Honors English book. And I probably did well in the class because as much as I hated uninteresting literature (DICKENS), I fucking loved composition and rhetoric. (She’d be so proud: “Mayka Mei is 28 now and fucking loved composition and rhetoric when she was in my class!”)
So when it came to our Poetry Analysis assignment, I was all about it. Analyze ten poems? Cakewalk. Analyze two more poems for extra credit? Frostingswim.
I picked ten poems from uninteresting places, and then I picked two more for extra credit – one of them coming from a gifted book published by the University of California, Poems for the Millennium. This was 2002, so “millennium” was still a hot word (and if you think it still is you’re wrong), so I knew I was being contemporary, bold, above-and-beyond, and breaking this assignment out of the dusty world of sonnets it was born in.
I skimmed the tome’s hundreds of poem titles in the index, and just landed on this one, because it was translated from Japanese (points for thinking globally) and had the word “glory” in it, and…I ‘unno, I liked the word “glory.” Sounded valiant and uplifting.
“Myself with a Glory Hole”
Lord, when will it be?
Will it be long before Your visit?
I crouch on the opprobrious floor, waiting, while before me
are pictures of angels with wings, and of saints;
at the center of the wall adorned with holy words of gold and silver,
a holy hole–Your shining visitation through it,
is it not yet time for it?
O then, I would kneel before You,
madly open my lips parched and cracked from thirst,
and as that terrifying prophet said,
fill my mouth with You.
Inside my mouth You would quickly grow large,
Your holy basket would violently overflow and splatter,
and to my popping eyes, my short nose,
to my crewcut head with a lot of young gray hair,
and to my narrow forehead, splatter all over, drip lazily,
and like trails of slugs, glutinously gleam–
in Your incomparable compassion, like one raped
I would close my eyes as if suffering, and pant. . . .
When will that be? Will it be long before the visit?
These words said, the face, like a pig-skin sack from which liquor has leaked,
deflated into wrinkles, was folded on its neck,
and togetehr with the body mounting the john, slumped.
The perplexing incident just over, before the john
stood the wall filled with base graffiti,
and from the other side of the hole in the middle of the wall, a glaring
parched eye was looking in.
Takahashi Mutsuo b. 1937
Translation from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato
I analyzed that poem. And I know what you’re thinking! How could you read that without realizing? How could you turn that in? What could you possibly parse, what would be at all appropriate for a late-blooming 14-year old to process and interpret for an academic assignment?
Seriously? I don’t know. My booklet (It was not a presentation, thank goodness!) could be somewhere in my mom’s house, but I haven’t set aside time to explicitly go glory-hole poetry diving for it. And like I mentioned before, I musta had some rock solid repression/cognitive dissonance going on for years because it really wasn’t until my adult life that I realized I had turned in an assignment exploring the rhythmic semantics of the thing you should never touch (or put your eye to) in a gas station restroom.
Like a good once-Honors student, I do remember bits and pieces of what I included in my one-page analysis, and, innocently, my overall theme was Not Understanding Abstract Things. I remember writing general approximations of:
- I don’t know exactly what Mutsuo is referring to, but it sounds very intense.
- It might have to do with religion, though it also seems too literal given the poet’s over-use of “Lord” juxtaposed with grimier imagery like slugs.
- What is he (the poet) being filled with?
- There is some violent imagery.
- I wonder if I am missing something in the diction [Ho-o!] because this poem is translated from Japanese.
I didn’t write any conclusions in my analysis. I was very specific that this poem left me in complete wonder.
Now you’re wondering: What was your teacher’s reaction? How quickly did she call Child Protective Services?
Answer: Whatever her reaction, she did an amazing job curbing it in her response. At the end of my packet, she wrote something like:
I appreciate your willingness to tackle abstract subjects.
Or something. And then she did not call Child Protective Services because I was never removed from my home.
Whatever I wrote (and I should note that a couple of times I was a punk student toward my teachers, so maybe she just didn’t put it past me to try and shock her – but I swear the wool was over my eyes on this one), I got the full extra credit on top of a perfect score and thus 102%. (Yes, I’m pretty sure each of the two extra poems I analyzed amounted to just two points of percentage.)
Although I was a sometimes-dedicated Honors student, I wasn’t the one who bent over backwards too much. Had I read on in Poems for the Millennium, I would have come across this scholarly commentary detailing:
But what most sets [Mutsuo’s] work apart is its fierce delineation of an actual (therefore surreal) gay world, not in any prettified way but…[by the] transformation of the “glory hole” (a phallus-sized opening gouged into the panels of public latrines & used for anonymous oral sex) [italics theirs]
Seriously, I wasn’t even aware of that tell-all clinical description until now, in writing this blog post, because I figured I should look into what the Hell book was in my hands before hitting “Publish.” Also overlooked: That the poem preceding “Myself with a Glory Hole” was written by the same author and mentions “phallus” or “phalluses” no less than six times in twentyish lines. Now that I’m 28 I call this non-critical reading. When I was 14 I was probably just finishing a month-long assignment within the confines of a single all-nighter and didn’t bother to consider any articles coming which way before, after, or through the glory hole.
I have told this story to both heterosexual and homosexual adult women and men, and they are all equally dismayed.
So anyway. Since realizing what a glory hole is and what I submitted for academic evaluation, I’ve curbed my fascination. Relax, guys, I’m not that into poetry!