What if your pum-pum fell off?
In her novel This One Sky Day, Leone Ross’ character's vulvas drop from between their legs. What do the different reactions say about our relationship with our bodies?
In the 2021 novel This One Sky Day by Leone Ross, spontaneously and inexplicably, people’s vulvas drop out. Yes, their vulvas – glistening flesh from between their legs – just detach and fall, rocking, pulsing and smiling, leaving gaping holes. The different ways that each person handles their dislodged flesh, when their privates become public, reveals so much about how we view our bodies and sexuality.
The book tells numerous stories of the inhabitants of Popisho over a period of 24 hours. People here can come into their unique gift called a “cors”, granting them abilities like healing through touch, sensing lies, predicting the age of someone’s death and seasoning food with one’s palms. Based on a fantastic, fictitious Caribbean island, Popisho is magical and mischievous, especially during the 24 hours in question. Many wondrous things happen throughout the pages, but for me, it is the part about the falling pum-pums that has lived on in my head months after reading it.
“It is the part about the falling pum-pums that has lived on in my head months after reading it”
What would you do if your pum-pum fell off? British-Jamaican author Leone Ross generously humours me when I ask her the somewhat absurd question based on her third novel. She wouldn’t look to reattach it immediately, she says, choosing to spend time with it first. She would comb it, feed it, oil it down and then masturbate. Until she could find a way to put it back in, she would set it up on a beautiful bed or keep it in a jewellery box and enjoy it with a partner. She spoke to me about her pum-pum with such affection.
Leone shares that from a young age she was taught about sex and sexuality in an open and productive way, making her comfortable with masturbation and speaking up about pleasure. We see this sex-positive perspective from the way she describes the fallen pum-pums in This One Sky Day through different characters’ reactions. Protagonist Anise laments four miscarried pregnancies, and her relationship with her body is a challenging one. Yet, she looks at her pum-pum in her hands, and finds it “warm and brown and nice”. Dandu finds his fiancée Sonteine’s to be “such a pretty, soft thing”. Io finds the pum-pum juicy “like fresh soursop”.
A group of workers in a brothel joke about the pum-pums being mistaken for raw meat; Lyla says someone might fry it up like pork, Mixie corrects her saying her own pum-pum is nothing less than a lobster dinner. They close the brothel that day, and hang their vulvas on a line to mark their strike. The pum-pums that hang on the line dance. Other pum-pums laugh. I ask Leone about the laughing, and she said that she finds vulvas quite merry. When a lesbian couple accidentally swap pum-pums, their bond is made even more special and their sex is that much more intimate. Leone Ross says much about vulvas, and vaginas – “the entrance to the universe” she writes – but the characters have a range of responses to their flesh falling out from them.
“The pum-pums that hang on the line dance. Other pum-pums laugh”
Not everyone is as pleased with their pum-pum. The character Hah confesses she is afraid of hers, and is nervous to touch it. Lyla, a sex worker known for her prowess, flings hers through the window, saying that she found it had long been a nuisance. “She was happy to dispense with it,” the story narrates, as it attracted too much jealousy from other women and too much whining from men, blubbering and desperate to fuck her.
I thought about how I would react if my vulva separated from me, and found that my response would vary depending on when this phenomenon might have happened. I remember myself as a child, being offended by its hue, plagued with ideals of colourism. In childhood, I would have thrown that detached pum-pum in some bleaching cream, hoping it wouldn’t burn as it was independent from me and my nerve endings. Younger me would have shaved that pum-pum smooth, able to find every unwanted hair from all newly available angles. Then I would hide it, and only bring it out in the dark to be cleaned.
“If my pum-pum fell off, I would grab her up immediately, gently wipe her off, and kiss her”
Adult me would never be so scornful. If my pum-pum fell off, I would grab her up immediately, gently wipe her off, and kiss her. I would promise her to find a way to be one again, and until then build a shrine of sorts, somewhere warm. As a woman now who has developed my own relationship with my sexuality and my body, I have undone the brain-washing of my upbringing and culture. I think my pussy is one of the most beautiful, bravest, most powerful and vulnerable things about me. But I do know that that may not be the case for everyone.
People who are sexualised differently from me might react in various ways if their vulvas came off. Queer women, trans and non-binary people, mothers, post-menopausal women, sex workers, survivors of assault, Christians and virgins would each have a very different relationship with their fallen genitals.
For example, Shivanee Ramlochan, a queer Trinidadian poet and essayist I spoke to says she would stitch hers back on with gold thread, not wanting to let it go. My aunt says she would give it to her husband who seems to get a bigger kick out of it than she does. She wasn’t concerned about a loss of intimacy, saying that she figured they would find other ways to enhance their relationship. A friend told me she expected hers to run away gallivanting, so she would post “missing pum-pum” signs all over town.
“Look at our miraculous bodies. What is more magical than arousal?”Leone Ross
Leone Ross tells me that the most magical thing about the pum-pums of Popisho was that they weren’t magical at all. “This is the essence of magical realism,” she says, “look at our miraculous bodies. What is more magical than arousal? That if we touch ourselves a certain way, it moistens and softens and welcomes pleasure.” This outrageous idea that vulvas could loosen and fall made me curious about the very real varied thoughts and feelings that people have with their bodies, sexuality and culture. Leone wants the reader to become more familiar and intimate with themselves. She prompts us to ask personal questions about our pleasure and comfort with our sexual selves, as well as how this impacts our relationship with others.
This bizarre event in the book asks how much attention one gives to a vulva, and what their attitude towards it is. It is not just any other limb or bit of flesh. Can one be tired of it? Yes. Can one be ready to relinquish ownership? Also yes. And then on the other end, how desperate can someone be to have it back? What could one be willing to do to have their pum-pum attached again? And of course, I have to ask, after reading all of this: what would you do if your own pum-pum suddenly dropped off and you came face-to-face with it?