Saeed Jones explores the idea that sexual intimacy is used to validate sexual orientation in the poem “Thralldom” from his collection Prelude to Bruise. The first line, “I survived on mouthfuls of hyacinth” sets a tone of sexual rashness. A hyacinth flower somewhat resembles a penis, hence the sexual connotation, and it signifies rashness, especially if the rashness pertains to a game. In Jones’ case, the game is his sexuality and he is rashly performing sexual acts as the “beauty” of being with another man “is what [he] choked on”. The juxtaposition of something beautiful leading to something painful, like choking, leads me to believe that Jones is recklessly engaging in painful sex in order to feel that his sexuality  can be validated as beauty. By claiming that “The beauty is what [he] choked on”, Jones also alludes to the beauty of sexual intimacy. Many queer people that engage in sex, oral or other, feel that there is something ethereal about physically being with someone of the same sex. For Jones, the “beauty” of oral sex is painful as it is “choking” him, but the situation is ethereal to him because it’s with another man. To further add to this opposition of beauty and pain, Jones claims that the men he’s sleeping within have “cruel tongues” yet he asks for “more / please”. Cruel tongues may be alluding to harsh language rather than an actual physical description as tongues can also be used as a synonym for language.  If he is referring to degrading language, then perhaps he is seeking out more degrading language for comfort. As a gay black man, Jones was probably used to degrading language and slurs being thrown at him, which could, oddly enough, cause a sense of comfort in that type of language. Therefore, asking for “more / please” In the very obviously cruel and painful situation Is a way of Jones acknowledging his sexual orientation during sexually intimate moments.

2 thoughts on “Thralldom”

  1. I love the way you talked about the juxtaposition between the ‘beauty’ of Jones expressing his true sexual identity and the type of sex he has actually has with these men. You added a new perspective to my head with the explanation of “more/please.” I thought there was some sarcasm when it said “how else to say more/please under the sweat and heave of their bodies?”. I interpreted this as Jones never saying “more/please” at all because of the heaviness of these men on his body. However, I do agree that he may have given false consent as there might have been some self harm involved.

  2. The specific wording of this poem is so rich with Jones connecting sexual intimacy to hunger and survival. I agree, I think Jones is looking for validation because after his abusive childhood, he can see past pain, “cruel tongues”, and degradation, and he sees harsh sex as comforting.
    I think the question that Jones poses, “How else to say more / please…” emphasizes that he feels that his partners will only continue to be with him if accepts the violent nature of this sex.
    Therefore, like @palmam mentioned, I think that false consent has become the main theme in these interactions.

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