Pushcart XLI: David Tomas Martinez, “Consider Oedipus’ Father” (poem) from Poetry, June 2015

It could have been a car door
                leaving that bruise,
 
as any mom knows,
almost anything could take an eye out,
 
and almost anybody could get their tongue
                frozen to a pole,
 
which is kind of funny
                to the point of tears
                plus a knee slap or two
that an eye can be made blue, pink
by a baby’s fist, it fits
perfectly in the socket. It’s happened to me.
                Get it?

Complete poem available online at Poetry

A brutal poem, but in vocabulary, it’s also a very subtle poem, as subtle as the excuses the abused tell for their injuries. Lots of words of injury in innocuous contexts: tears, slap, sock-et, and hands, lots of hands.

My favorite line is almost comic: “For me, a woman’s tears / are IKEA instructions / on the European side.” I’m not sure what’s so hard to figue out, but I guess I’m the wrong one to ask.

I found myself uncomfortable as I read, at least until it gets into more analytical territory:

I’m sure for Laius, Oedipus’s father, it was the same.
                Think of him sleeping
after having held a crying Jocasta
because they had fought for hours
because she was stronger.
 
                Who knew better the anger of young Jocasta?
Knew that when the oracle, or the police,
                come, they are taking someone with them.
 
I’m sure Laius looked at the crib
                and thought better you
than me, kid
.

I’m not sure I understand the reference to Jocasta’s strength. Though she had nothing to do with Laius’ sins that brought on his curse, I always thought of her as a full participant in the abandonment of the baby Oedipus. I’ll give her mixed feelings, that she might be devastated as she pierced his ankles. I do love that sense of Laius trying to weasel his way out of another scrape. Excuses. Always excuses. The man gets the title; the woman gets the blame, the woman and her tears, her strength, damn her.

I had a hard time getting a grip on this one. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hit squarely on point, just that I’m not able to come up with much, or am not willing to publicly come up with much. It might be one of those things you get or you don’t.

2 responses to “Pushcart XLI: David Tomas Martinez, “Consider Oedipus’ Father” (poem) from Poetry, June 2015

  1. Hey there — I am unsure of my reading, which is why I was interested in seeing yours! My reading is at the beginning, the same: children hide the causes of injuries in order to avoid causing pain to those they love (mothers) especially if the father is the cause of the abuse. For the speaker, who is–I assume– a man, who has grown up in a culture of abuse, the tears of the woman are something that simply do not work on him, as they did not work on his father (?); they do not change his mind, they do not do the things they are intended to do or convey the instructions they are intended to convey. He understands, objectively, what the end result is intended to be, but they simply are not in his language; they cannot change his mind or behavior. I think this is how we get to Laius — who sleeps peacefully, who has no doubt about his decision to kill his kid, even though Jocasta has been tearfully trying to persuade him to find a different solution to the problem. (Like Jocasta, mothers in abusive homes have to choose between the people they love, and risk losing one of them; they are in a lose/lose situation). I think the last stanzas of the poem refer to how fathers/men teach their sons to do “boy stuff,” but cannot/do not teach their sons how to avoid conflict successfully, how to avoid getting enraged by simple domestic catastrophes, how to embrace the antagonisms of having a family, rather than becoming violent in response to them. Again, I feel shaky on my interpretations here, and I’ll still be trying to figure out something more firm.

    • Hi Nameless – (if you name yourself Nameless, you’re not nameless any more, what a conundrum!) – it’s been a long time since I looked at this poem, so I re-read it, and I still get a very strong message of abuse, of excuses for abuse. I’m still uncertain how Laius comes into it, though he was the ultimate abusive father – “Better you than me, kid” is the antithesis of parenthood. It’s one of those poems that hovers just on the edge of comprehension, but the closer I get, the farther away it is.
      Are you reading this for a class, or just for your own enjoyment?

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