Ode to the Clap


The first time I got the clap
it was a bit of a shock, let me tell you
All those years fucking whores
from 42nd Street to Frankfurt
never once using a rubber
except when the lady insisted on it
(& in those days, before AIDS
and the great VD scares of the late 60s onwards
& with our faith in penicillin still unshaken,
that was damn seldom)
Dozens of Western cunts & assholes,
memorable black mouths in Harlem cathouses,
rude street scags from the back alleys of K-town,
most of them fucked by every Tom’s dirty dick around
—and I had to come all the way to Hong Kong
to get my first taste of the great dripping cock
Leave it to the Chinese to teach us wayward Occidentals
something new


The second time I got the clap
the chick was really sorry
I was living in Wanchai & she was my favorite Suzie Wong
Never could tell when she’d creep into my bed,
always on one of those rare nights
when she couldn’t turn a trick & wanted company instead
One week after that poisonous fuck
& just before the incubating drip came to life,
she also came round & told me what was coming,
slept with me but wouldn’t screw, of course,
not until we were both clean—
then offered to pay the doctor’s bill,
which gesture I romantically refused
And would you believe, she caught that dose
not from a customer but another boyfriend!
Dammit, I thought, things like this could even make me


The third time I got the clap
was a mindbender & a half from the word go
To begin with, I couldn’t tell for sure who’d dosed me
Was it the last Hong Kong Suzie to grace my rattan bed
& drink tea with me in the morning
while outside our window
(for in that moment it belonged as much to her as me)
one of the world’s greatest harbors gazed in on us
with a mixed metaphor smile of dawn mist & foghorns?
(You can’t see it from there anymore,
like wherever else you look these days
they’ve been stealing the sea & building skyscrapers—
but don’t worry, Poseidon will get even soon enough)
Was it her? A memento from China
before I boarded a Russian steamship & sailed off to Japan

Or was it the girl I fucked in Yokohama?
The joke of it, how all afternoon on our first day ashore
my friend & I pinched pennies,
searching everywhere for the cheapest places to eat & sleep,
then in one fell screw & a blow job each—
shoes left outside, Oriental courtesies on a tatami mat,
all the amenities of an ancient civilization
preserved in a bordello amid the noise & haste of treacherous
several thousand yen flew from both our pockets
Quite a laugh we had over that
But as all good hustlers realize,
you gotta keep that bread rolling
Otherwise what else can come back from it
except its worst karma?

Anyway, I doubt very much it was the girl in Manila
since the dreaded drip started,
like a fountain of pus gushing nothing but bad news,
only three days after I’d spent my next-to-last pesos
to have a hot dip into her
Our very last coins, mine & my friend’s
(you can imagine how happy he was about it)
went to the VD quack with the big sign off Roxas Blvd:
“All Kinds of Venereal Diseases Cured Here”
in even larger letters than on the movie marquee next door
For five days & nights he had me on such a wild assortment
of tabs & capsules
that all I felt guaranteed of was that I’d get no sleep
But thanks be to Mary (Magdalena, of course)
on the sixth day after this weird treatment began
my third dose of clap went away—
though not before I’d given it to a few others, no doubt
Ah, what charming presents we bestow on our fellow beings
and all for the sake of…togetherness


The fourth time I got the clap
there was no doubt about whom it came from
or even which part of the sexual anatomy
It was in Bangkok, after a long night of cruising
in one of those rough-trade seaman’s bars down in Klongtoy
But the boy—a katoy really, since she was in drag when
we met—
had such a lovely ass that I hardly minded its consequences
Especially when the good doctor I went to,
educated in Edinburgh & New England, if you please
(ergo, one of the occasions when I’ve actually appreciated
allopathic medicine)
cleared it all up with three pills spaced out over a single day
As some wiseguy said to me recently:
“In one way or another we all pay for a lay”
That sweet kid came with me for nothing
but those three pills cost five bucks apiece or more
And in Bangkok, baby, back in 1970
that was money


It’s been many years since I last had the clap
(yeah, including a further four doses
with red-light Amsterdam written all over them)
and if I never get it again it’ll be too soon
But as every whore lover knows
nearly as bad as the festering itself
are those long days of staring your pecker in the face
waiting to find out if you have it
At times like that even the ol’ drip can be a relief—


(An earlier version of this poem appeared in the book Sale or Return, Ins & Outs Press, 1981)