Poetry Pause: Paola Ferrante — Things She Wants

Poet name: Paola Ferrante Poem title: Things She Wants Poem: Unconditioned stimulus is touch. Unconditioned stimulus provokes a response, the expulsion of fluid from the Skene glands through and around the human female urethra as in when kissing as in when fucking as in when his fingers touch the most sensitive scalp while pulling her hair. Conditioned stimulus is then paired with unconditioned stimulus. If a dog, a female dog, is accustomed to being fed and salivates for food when the man plays a tone, consistently, suddenly her mouth is not her own. The conditioned stimulus is paired with the unconditioned stimulus like with the dog and the tone, as in fucking is paired with loving or blue and yellow roses or his grandmother’s ring, as in fucking is paired with bedroom sets from Ikea, matching towels are paired with Thanksgiving dinner which is paired with the first baby named Aidan, boy or girl, it doesn’t matter; these things she is supposed to want. The conditioned stimulus then provokes a response all by itself. Take a bridge. If a woman, a human woman, is scared of heights, her heart rate up, her breathing rate up and she meets a man on a bridge, she interprets the sensation. If a woman is scared and meets a man on a bridge she might think she is aroused. Stimuli do not interpret themselves. But if a dog is scared and meets a man, she barks. If a dog, a female dog, is scared she will run away and the man will try to control her fear; he uses treats, he uses dinners, he uses cuddles, he uses kisses. But if a bitch is scared and she bites he uses hurt, the way you bruise a fruit, slowly, on the inside, so no one notices until the pith is peeled back. Then the conditioned stimulus elicits the response that was previously only given by the unconditioned stimulus. As in when she sees their new duvet, their home, she gets wet, she cries. As in then somehow fucking is paired with fighting is paired with hitting is paired with the thing to hit with like the riding crop. A jockey cannot hit a horse, a female horse, anywhere except on the rump or the flank with a riding crop but when it comes to the woman, the human woman, he breaks the rules and no one will believe her. But if a horse meets a man on the bridge, she could crush him. If a woman meets a man and she is aroused and then scared the conditioned stimulus changes. As in fucking is paired with bruising is paired with touching is paired with choking and loving and bruising and touching and choking elicits a hemorrhage of fluids: semen, urine, blood. The fluids are like words when her mouth is not her own; these things she does not choose to want. If she is scared she is supposed to want to run but she runs and comes back and then runs and comes back and comes back and comes back. It takes twelve times to leave. Twelve times because it is worth it to remember that the unconditioned stimulus is paired with the boy or girl named Aidan, with Christmas lights together, with the thing they call future. It is worth it to remember that the man is paired with loving is paired with hitting is paired with bruising is paired with waking up in the dark to the sounds of warm breathing instead of quiet, instead of walking the suspension bridge alone. End of poem. Credits: Copyright © Paola Ferrante from What to Wear When Surviving A Lion Attack (Mansfield Press, 2019). Paola Ferrante's debut poetry collection, What to Wear When Surviving A Lion Attack, was published Spring 2019 by Mansfield Press. Her fiction has been nominated by The New Quarterly for the 2020 Journey Prize and the National Magazine Awards. Her work has appeared in The Puritan, The New Quarterly, Grain, The Fiddlehead, CV2, Room, Joyland and elsewhere. She won The New Quarterly's 2019 Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award and Room's 2018 prize for Fiction, and was longlisted for PRISM International's 2020 Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize. She is the Poetry Editor at Minola Review and resides in Toronto, Canada.