This week’s mantra: market yourself.
Belong to a social circle of gay men.
Your i’s should make love with other i’s.
Not “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”
from Jesus Christ Superstar but “I o o o o oe i”
from eu i ea. In a bar, from afar, if you see 1, smile,
tilt your head back, make him feel safe.
Learn to like brunch. Be a man, your
Dad said a bunch. Now you can be much more
than just a man, you can be a Wonder
bunned Manwich on a blue plastic plate.
Be firm. Stop playing with your bracelets.
No wonder you’re. Speakup.
Stop being fat and sweet like a Fasnacht.
You are your mystery, you are my product.
The speaker of this poem has clear goals for himself: “market yourself,” “Belong to a social circle of gay men,” “Learn to like brunch,” “Be a man,” etc. His commands take the poem’s “you” for granted. They frame the poem as an internal monologue, or a kind of bathroom mirror pep talk in which the speaker expresses a desire to shed a piece of himself in the name of “mak[ing] love with other i’s.”
As far as pep talks go, it’s not a great one. The speaker doesn’t commit to its message. From the first line, it’s clear we’re reading “This week’s mantra” and not, say, “My new forever mantra.” He might become a “Wonder / bunned Manwich,” but he’s a bit disgusted by placing himself on the “market” (a concept that’s echoed in the conspicuously accented title). There’s a knowing reluctance to the idea that he’ll become a “product” like Wonder Bread or Manwich. We sense some particular sarcasm in the idea that to become so will make him “much more / than just a man.” The temporariness of his “mantra” helps us understand that he hasn’t fully bought in to this process. It’s a necessary evil, and it’s only for a week.
Because the poem charts the speaker’s own thoughts, there are some private moments. Why, for instance, does he compare himself to a “Fasnacht?” There’s the near rhyme with “product,” but it’s still a pretty specific choice even if it meets the criteria of “fat and sweet.” And why does he use the number “1” instead of a spelled out “one?” We could chalk this up to style, but we could also read it as an extension of the poem’s comment on sexual objectification. His “mark” is never named, only numbered.
The poem’s private moments are important because they shade our view of the speaker. For the most part, we find the speaker’s struggle endearing. Part of it is his use of the inoffensive phrase “make love.” Part of it is the Jesus Christ Superstar bit. His eagerness makes us want him to succeed in his conversion to man-eater. Anyone who’s ever had difficulty navigating love or sex or dating (read: everyone ever) could identify with his willingness to serve himself up on a platter (or a “blue plastic plate”) despite his own best thoughts.
But there’s also something mysterious and potentially troubling behind the speaker’s approach. Within his self-affirmations, he has also made a decision to misrepresent himself. He’s decided to fake it, to act as if, to be dishonest. There’s something ominous in the poem’s title, too. Who is “marked?” And what does it mean to “mark” someone? He finishes the poem with a serious and possessive “you are my product.” Then there’s that weird phrase “make him feel safe” which comes out of almost nowhere. Why wouldn’t he feel safe? Is it possible the speaker is more calculating than he lets on? Is it possible that, behind his aww-shucks façade, there’s someone who knows exactly what he’s doing?
– The Editors