From: The Poetics of Embarrassment
by Michael Blitz
c. 1986


I approach with such
a careful tremor, always
I feel the finally foolish

question of how it is,
then, supposed to be felt,
and by whom. I remember

once in a rented room on
27th street, the woman I loved
then, literally, after we

had made love on the large
bed sitting across from
a basin with two faucets, she

had to pee but was nervous,
embarrassed I suppose I
would watch her who had but

a moment ago been completely
open to me, naked, on
the same bed. Squatting, her

head reflected in the mirror,
the hair dark there, the
full of her face, the shoulders,

sat spread-legged, turned on
one faucet and shyly pissed. What
love might learn from such a sight.

It might seem the obvious place to begin, then, with the 5th stanza and to note the explicit embarrassment therein. . .the embarrassment this shy lover must feel. But this is not where a hermeneutics of embarrassment focuses its attention. Such a hermeneutics seeks to make manifest what is implicitly embarrassed, and embarrassing, about the poetics as they may be embedded, embodied, in this poem.

Creeley’s “I” would have us learn something (“something”) from what not a few critics have referred to as this verbal portraiture. What we may actually learn, which “I” seems not to have grasped, is NOT that one needn’t be ashamed of pissing in front of someone one has just made love with (openly, nakedly), but that, in fact, sometimes one just IS embarrassed by pissing in front of someone one has just made love with—especially someone who is not only observing the scene closely, but is composing the pissing scene for its future in the infinite space of poetic eternity.

The poem’s title avoids a common reductiveness of any title by being almost a total reduction of any possible point to the poem—that is, the poem is simply some thing and/or the things it says are just some things. Or the “something” is the point—which is that it is awfully ironic, isn’t it, that a pisser is embarrassed where a fucker ain’t. “I” senses he ought to feel something—but he uses the long-hand of the poem itself to present the occasion, to re-present the scene itself, as that which clearly embodies the overwhelming peculiarness of human foibles. The ironies multiply: open and naked sexuality closes itself into excretory self-consciousness (what drove Swift crazy); the desire for privacy as it comes up against the most public, futurizing instance of the composition of one’s life by another (Poet); even the shift from the “I” who does not know how to feel about such matters to the lover who does know, but who cannot act upon her need for privacy because her ambivalent lover needs to be privy to her every move. But perhaps the most embarrassing fact in this poem, and certainly the greatest irony, is that the pissing lover is NOT concerned with being watched, but with being heard; the faucet-water covers nothing but her sound. “What love might learn” from listening.

She needn’t worry. His love is merely “literal”—and while his gaze seems ubiquitous, his attention is flawed. Armed with the Poetics of Embarrassment, she can piss boldly, perhaps IN the double tapped sink. She may leave the lights off, her clothes on, and murmur her lover’s poem into the darkened mirror. Because the embarrassment does not lie in her act, nor in his chagrin at never knowing how to deal with ironies he experiences. It lies dormant in the poem’s USE as the occasion for a sentimental voyeurism intended to serve as ironic punctuation to an idea. Because the water was running, she never saw us (all) watching.

[Originally published in OOVRAH, volume 1, number 1, 1986: 55-57.]