Hey everyone, I’ve been on a Joyce Carol Oates kick, and I recently happened upon her poem “Occult,” but I’m wondering what everyone else’s readings of this poem are? It’s kind of blurry, but I really want to see what other people are reading from this poem. (the /s are my addition, the post won’t put the stanza breaks in correctly).
the blood-smear across the knuckles:
once you discover it pain will begin,
never will you learn what caused it.
you forget it. /
the telephone answered on the twelfth ring:
silence without breath, cunning, stark.
and then he hangs up.
and you stand there, alone.
then you forget. /
and your father’s inexplicable visit:
two days’ notice, a ten-hour reckless drive.
rains, 80 mph winds, bad luck all the way,
traffic backed up, a broken windshield wiper,
and no stopping him. /
How good to —!
How long will—?
he must leave in the morning,
must get back.
a gas station two blocks away repairs the wiper. /
did he sense death,
and so he raced to us?
did he already guess at his death
behind those nervous fond smiles,
the tumult of memories he had to bear? /
nothing we know can explain his visit,
or the new, strange way he moved among us—
touching us, squeezing our arms, smiling.
the visit was an excuse.
the words that surrounded our touching were an excuse.
inexplicable, that the language we invent may be a means
to get us closer, to allow us to touch one another,
and then to back away. /
I feel like this poem is about a son or daughter who gets an “inexplicable visit” from a father, who was either sick or dying and was acting more affectionate during this visit, as a way of saying goodbye. I wonder why the title is “Occult” if the poem’s subject matter is so familial, but I’m also aware that I could be completely wrong in my reading. If anyone has any other readings, I’d love to hear them!