What is Stephen Dobyns saying in his poem "Tenderly?"?
It’s not a fancy restaurant, nor is it
a dump and it’s packed this Saturday night
when suddenly a man leaps onto his tabletop,
whips out his prick and begins sawing at it
with a butter knife. I can’t stand it
anymore! he shouts. The waiters grab him
before he draws blood and hustle him
out the back. Soon the other diners return
to their fillets and slices of duck. How
peculiar, each, in some fashion, articulates.
Consider how the world implants a picture
in our brains. Maybe thirty people watched
this nut attack him member with a dull knife
and for each, forever after, the image pops up
a thousand times. I once saw the oddest thing –
how often does each announce this fact?
In the distant future, several at death’s door
once more recollect this guy hacking at himself
and die shaking their heads. So they are linked
as a family is linked – through a single portrait.
The man’s wobbly perch on the white tablecloth
his open pants and strangled red chunk of flesh
become for each a symbol of having had precisely
enough, of slipping over the edge, of being whipped
about the chops by the finicky world, and of reacting
with a rash mutiny against the tyranny of desire.
As for the lunatic who was tossed out the back
and left to rethink his case among the trash cans,
who knows what happened to him? A short life,
most likely additional humiliation and defeat.
But the thirty patrons wish him well. They all
have burdens to shoulder in this world and whenever
one feels the strap begin to slip, he or she thinks
of the nut dancing with his dick on the tabletop
and trudges on. At least life has spared me this,
they think. – And one, a retired banker, represents
the rest when he hopes against hope that the lunatic
is parked on a topless foreign beach with a beauty
clasped in his loving arms, breathing heavily, Oh,
darling, touch me there, tenderly, one more time!