Thursday, June 23, 2011

Judas as a General Theory

Can't find it online.

The basic story is simple: the narrator's best friend has just kissed her unexpectedly, but the narrator is "so not gay", and does not welcome the kiss. (Neither the sex of the narrator nor the sex of the friend is made clear; I'm just going to assume for ease of pronouns that they're both female.)

This one hit me in the gut--which is a little strange, because I've never been in the exact scenario it describes. The narrator's emotional response to the kiss is both compelling and difficult for me to rationalise: she feels betrayed. I have trouble rationalising it because, while I do think it's wrong to kiss somebody who doesn't want it, I get the feeling that that's not the real issue. The betrayal seems to be that the friend was secretly in love with the narrator, and the kiss was just an outward sign of this. But surely you don't wrong somebody by being secretly in love with them. (Otherwise, I am going to have to start wearing a hair shirt to atone for all the evil I've committed. And that's not comfortable.)

The poem is divided into 6 sections. (Including a section 2 1/2, which was a little too clever for me.) The first (labeled "Prologue") introduces the narrator's predicament in a fairly literal and straightforward way. Section 1 introduces the deceptive "promises" of a beautiful natural world, and then the end brings us back to the harsh reality of the unwanted kiss, where "your lips are smeared and you want to wipe your mouth hard".

Section 2 moves the reader to a different scene: one where the narrator climbs a tree and feels the thrill of being high up, but wakes the next day with a miserable pain in her shoulders. This, too, is a sort of betrayal: climbing a tree convinces you that you have no limitations--the poem uses the metaphor of flying--but when you wake up with an aching body, you realise that this was a lie. This feeling of betrayal, too, is both compelling and extremely hard to rationalise. It's not like the world literally tells you anything about your abilities to fly, or owes you anything in the way of superpowers. And yet in my gut, I affirm what the narrator is saying. Section 2 1/2 elaborates on the pain that the narrator feels after climbing the tree. (And oh, this turn of phrase is magnificent: "Darkness seeped in like ink then,/ up the wick of your body..."

Section 3 moves away from the pain of reality and back to the world's empty promises, speaking enviously (and mostly figuratively) of the "innocent ones" who never suffer any sort of harsh wake-up calls. It is not clear, either to me in real life or (apparently) to the poem, whether these people really exist or whether they are the figments of an envious imagination.

After three strophes of analogy and figurative speech, the last section, labeled "Epilogue", brings us back to the scene that originally prompted the poem: the unwanted kiss. Section 3 said (paraphrase): "It is possible, for some people, never to suffer shattered illusions". The epilogue responds with (direct quote): "But not for you, sucker." There's a quotable bit immediately after this opening, complete with excellent line break: "The world is puckering/ up like a buzzard's anus for one great wet smacker." Yuck!

The two central scenes, then, are the kiss and the tree-climbing. I think the kiss edges out the tree-climbing as the subject of the poem (it is used at the opening and closing to frame the story), but the poem gets considerable emotional pull from each.

Ah, one more critical thing to add in at the end: there were places where the sound play felt excessive and indulgent. There's a bit of of "tick tock tick tock" and "pick pock pick pock"; that ought to be cut and never spoken of again. There's also "as if fresh muscles had grown solely to groan, solely/ to remind you that you were grounded" and "yowls and growls and jowls". I'm pretty tolerant of poetry that sounds like somebody banging on a can, but this was too much even for me. Still, when it's not hitting the occasional wrong note, this poem hits notes that are very, very right.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Not having the poem to read, I agree with you, from what you said, about the unnecessary distractions. I wonder if they were N's way of pushing away uncomfortable feelings? Just a thought. The whole thing about what the real betrayal is I think might be this - with both the kiss and the tree, it isn't the act, it is the knowledge. Once you know something, whatever that something is, it isn't the knowledge about the other - the other person, the other "thing," that matters, it is the effect that that other has upon you. Because that effect fundamentally changes YOU. And that is where the discomfort comes from. Your relationship to the other person or the other thing changes. You can no longer see the other in the same way and your reactions to the other must, therefore, change. And so must your assumptions about who you are as an individual. I hope this makes some kind of sense.