Pushcart 2014: Joanna Ruocco, “If the Man Took” from Noon, 2012

Jogan Hesse, “The Grateful Dead Philosophers: The Aristotle Perspective of Happiness”; digital collage

If the man took the teleological view, which he would, he would, of course, he would, he would attempt to use the sensations he derived from the penile motions in my vagina to produce orgasm, ejaculating in or near my vagina, thereby terminating the sex act as such.
I would use the convention of assent so that the man could get on with his nocturnal commitments, dog walking or sleeping or watching recorded sports footage, what have you.

Either Pushcart clustered its highly sexualized poetry together (except for Saeed Jones, who came earlier) – or I have sex on the brain. This one’s more sexually explicit, and more philosophically explicit as well. What is the purpose of sex? The poem rotates through several views.

With a little help from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, casually known as “Plato,” to refresh my memory, teleology links function, design, and cause: starting back in Ancient Greece, Aristotle decided everything had four causes, the final cause being telos, or the ultimate purpose.

In the poem, Ruocco sees sex through different lenses. For the man, the telos, the purpose of sex, is ejaculation. The woman’s purpose is to get the job done and send the man on to other things, hence her encouragement, if necessary (“because of some blockage, or because he was nervous or because he took a pill, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or a nonselective serotonin reuptake inhibitor”, the evil little flaw in the Prozac panacea – you’re finally undepressed enough to be interested in sex again, only to discover orgasm is impossible) and her acceptance of responsibility for the man’s failure. We never seem to be able to leave Eve far behind.

The fertilization of the egg, and the resultant person, seems an afterthought to all this, of course. But that would be, according to Aristotle, the true teleological view (the man in the poem is a bit short-sighted, seeing only an intermediate cause): the purpose of sex is to reproduce. Come to think of it, that’s both the evolutionary and the fundamentalist view as well (strange bedfellows there). Mr. Darwin, come back, tell us how we can re-evolve our procreative urges in an era when the last thing we need around here is more people.

I’m fascinated by the title, which reveals nothing about the poem other than a man taking. Taking what? Sounds aggressive, doesn’t it? Then we come to the next phrase – “the teleological view” – which switches gears, dials down the aggressiveness to an academic level. But the aggression is always there, isn’t it, in the very act of sex itself, seen clearly in the multitudes of rebukes and insults built on “fuck”. Not to mention rape: no one force-feeds someone to show power.

Every being is born unconsenting. The being is made by violation.

Can’t argue with that. This is why the white-haired man in the sky makes more sense than Mother Nature: mammalian sex was obviously designed by a man. Unless you reverse the cause and effect, and decide that God was created by men – that’s small “m” men – to conform to the underlying physical reality of the male penetration of the female; thus God became a misogynist.

Interesting poem.

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