This collision of teeth, of tongues and lips,
is like feeling for the door
in a strange room, blindfolded.
He imagines he knows her
after four dates, both of them taking pains
to laugh correctly, to make eye contact.
She thinks at least this long first kiss
postpones the moment she'll have to face
four white walls, the kitchen table,
its bowl of dried petals and nutmeg husks,
the jaunty yellow vase with one jaunty bloom,
the answering machine's one bloodshot eye.
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Each of them is a little desperate. The boy, because he is a boy. After four dates--painful dates of saying and doing the "proper" things, apparently--he's doing what he's expected to do. The girl, because she's lonely and tired of being alone. Their moment on this night is supposed to be many things; instead it is described as a "collision." It's a bad moment for them now, and it sure doesn't bode well for any future they might have together.
The poem starts with a negative impression 'collision of teeth' and sets the tone for the rest of the poem and the relationship. The tone of the poem is cynical and mocking. The words 'feeling for the door' may be interpreted by some readers as a sign of looking for a way out already as the relationship is not going to last. There is some suggestion for some readers that this may n ot be the first time this has happened - the woman in particular is already thinking ahead to the moment she will be alone again. It is common for this kind of short relationship syndrome to become a 'self-fulfilling prohecy' (the more relationships, the more desperation - the shorter they last - leading to a serial-relationship syndrome. This one is ridiculously short, both of them seeming to know it's over before it's even started. The end of the poem has a dark menacing feel - almost as if the woman is being mocked by a leering winking eye.
The poem is realistic to the point of cynicism.
My interpretation is that this poem is about the different ways in which the man and the woman (and maybe all men and all women) "read" the things that happen in their relationships.
The way I see it, the poet is arguing that both of them are sort of groping around for the meaning of the kiss, but that they get very different answers.
The guy seems to think it means things are going well. He thinks that it shows that he knows her and that they get along well together. You could argue this shows a stereotypical masculine insensitivity and arrogance -- the idea that guys are always sure they know stuff.
By contrast, the woman is seeing the kiss as coming almost out of desperation on her part. She doesn't want to be home alone in her apartment that she's trying to make cheery when it's really just barren and empty. You can argue this shows the stereotypically feminine need to make a home and settle down, regardless of whether that's what she really wants from life.
The poem is primarily about man-woman relationship or differently put the rapport of the two sexes in all its problematic textures. The guiding metaphor is that of the first kiss which becomes a sad absence, a delusive trace of memory in a subjugating relationship. When the initial romantic euphoria is gone, the harsh reality of incompatibility as well as the patriarchal institutional ideology of marriage comes to the fore. It all crystallizes into an image of power and domination.
After a very brief period ('four dates'), there already appears in them a kind of facade--a garb of studied perfection and no genuine feelings. Note the way the kiss is described in the first line--a spectacle of violence.
Does the kiss postpone the moment of subjugation really? It seems to turn into a subjugating moment in itself! The images of domesticity (white walls, kitchen table etc) that close the poem chart out the feminine restriction to the domestic or the private realm. This can be seen both as a feminist's complaint and a feminist's vindication in terms of championing the value of the female labour at home. The final line is ambivalent but I would like to read it as an image of surveillance--the panoptic gaze of the male and the woman's answerlessness.
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