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​By Isobel Williams

The ballad of drawing at the sex club

The ballad of drawing at the sex club


Some scholars think Catullus sixteen

Is the dirtiest poem they’ve ever seen

Because he tells two gentleman friends

He’ll do rude things to their fronts and ends


But in the real-life situation

He wouldn’t itemise his intention:

When boyz get down or up to it

In areas dark or brightly lit,

Aided by sweet-smelling lubricant gel,

The narrative style is show not tell

And on their way to in flagrante

The topic could be Elena Ferrante

Or people in Durham they know in common –

Dicks may be big but talk is small.

You can be sure the ancient Roman

Is posturing rhetoricallee –

Translators, don’t use words filthee

(He’s a reliable sex-club gnomon).


I know because I am there to see

With pens and sketchpad on my knee,

Welcomed by the managemēnt.

Now, how should I dress for such an event?

Enough white linen to clothe a convēnt,

My pearls and plastic laminated

Good Housekeeping pinny, all quite dated,

But in this context, if only by stealth,

Everyone’s wardrobe speaks utter filth.


The more mysterious don’t wear clothes.

I sit in light that’s not too dim,

Peaceably drawing, very prim.

A prince among men says, ‘I don’t suppose

You can talk and do that at the same time,’

And sits quietly next to me in the club

Until he feels ready to join the hubbūb.

I’m glad to have made a launching space

And everybody is equally nice.


People are indoors having a smoke

And bonding over Diet Coke.

Groups will form to do this and that

While others watch or have a good chat.


There’s apparatus to amaze you

Not half as forbidding as school gymnasia.

The medical room lets people shed

Inhibition on the bed

Under the well-known cross of red.

Four men form a close connection;

Another plays with his erection.


‘There are lots of interesting people here,’

A young man tells me, donning his trousers.

Confident players, swingers with spouses,

Breasts and bottoms and penises free

Or buttoned up as they can be,

Singles sipping water or beer,

Newcomers, old-comers, low-key cheer,

Professional titles left at the door,

Comfy sex-islands on the floor,

Fishnet stockings and handbags neat,

Monstrous high heels torturing feet,

Cages and whips and strange contraptions,

Bowls of barrier contraception,

Basques, suspenders, dashing moustaches

But if you like you can wear galoshes.


I keep busy and use my nous.

The boss, he pays me a compliment:

‘She sits there like a little mouse

And gets us.’ Thank you. I’m content.


Although I very rarely commēnt,

As I sketch a resting gent

I suggest he might try undies of silk

Instead of his chosen synthetic ilk

But ‘Sometimes you just have to,’ he says,

Sat in the swing with his legs outspread

To have his red balls on display,

The most relaxed he’s been all day.

He’s one of the pleasantest chaps I’ve met

And we natter a little about crickēt:

I mention my former next door neighbour

The famous slow left arm spin bowler.

There are an awful lot of men

Who save their excitement for Wisdēn.


And when I need to have a pee

The house domme clears the way for me:

She drives the punters from the wet zōne,

Tells them they are very naughtee

(They’d have paid plenty for that alone),

And bars the door with her fair bodee

So I am afforded privacee

(Compared with here, it’s luxuree).


As I leave early, our hostess prettee

Kisses me on the lips to see

If that is of interest to me.

Back home I sleep like an innocent child.

In my absence the joint goes wild.


One night, after drawing bondage upstairs,

Which is nothing to do with these debonairs,

I think I’ll pop down for a minute or three

To introduce an artist, Rosee,

Plus her friend whom I don’t know from France.

Now he decides to stay on and dance

Or pounce or flounce or take his chance

And says later that there he enjoyed

Whether girled or womanned or manned or boyed

Or grouped or toyed or unalloyed

The second best night of his life,

Oh yes,

Mais si,

The second best night of his life.


The management have learnt their lesson:

His next visit will be the best one.


With thanks to Nina and Aidan at BiZarre Events, London


Copyright (c) Isobel Williams 2022

Proudly published here by kind permission of the author.

Find her book of drawings and poetry 'Catullus: Shibari Carmina'

at Carcanet Press Ltd

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