Original poem reprinted online here: "The Illiterate in New Mexico" by Gary Fincke
Originally read: March 22, 2013
More information about the Poet: Gary Fincke
A story within a narrative. A conflicting point of view of success and failure. I know I'm starting out pretty fragmented, but this is probably the main technique in the first stanza of this poem -- fragments of a dual narrative, and perspective trying to reconcile. So here's the two perspective -- the son, the father. The focus of the son is failure in calculus (the lower case of calculus versus the capitalized version -- math versus Math -- theory versus Theory).
I've spent too much space on the overall when the first stanza is about something more intimate. The father, in a way, tries to be consoling with an anecdote of his own "The story of how Janitors were hired / in Almogordo, New Mexico." However, since the perspective of the poem is written in the first. The "I," the story, and the conversation come to a head with the dialogue in the bottom of the first stanza.
The lines of focus and dialogue blur, "'F,' he hurled, 'is your failure,' and I said" There's a mix of intention ("hurled" not a very consoling verb) and the interruption of the "I" then saying "atomic bomb" after the discussion, until finally the focus going to the title, "'If you couldn't read a word, you were hired, / An illiterate in New Mexico.'"
There a sense of confusion at the end of the first stanza; however, note the value of worth is pretty clear in the first stanza. Being able to work is a success for a father, that even an illiterate finds a place; meanwhile, the son focuses on failure on a higher level -- not passing a class. Maybe it's a generational issue (in many ways, academia versus work, scientist versus janitor), but I'm more invested in the father, who tries, versus the son who sulks.
In the second stanza, there's a bit of a diffusion of the situation where the speaker can think about the situation. The speaker punctuates his failure with thoughts of his future, "And was supposed to become a doctor, Not clean up after their accomplishments / Somebody who'd never know their secrets." The more the speaker thinks of his failure, the more the second narrative becomes fleshed out not plot wise, but what the speaker truly doesn't want. The speaker sees himself as someone who equates not understanding calculus as an inability to understand what's going on, and understand success, "A failure sweeping up in ignorance." A little hyperbolic? Well this type of sentiment fits with the character -- which, oddly, seems pretty static for a narrative up to this point -- foreshadowing a change, perhaps, in the third stanza.
After the moping internal second stanza, there's the dialogue(?) moreso monologue of the father which is the more dynamic of the two characters. In the monologue, the father just focuses on action -- the scientist destroy the world while the janitors emptied trash. No emotional context, no judgement -- just current action versus future ambition. Even the father is able to calculate a simple tip. The father tries to console the son in the first stanza, and in the last action of the poem, the father leaves the grades behind.
Yet, in the sentiment of the son, the actual present son is stewing on the meaning behind the janitor, "I was as helpless as / The illiterate in New Mexico." These lines are interesting due to the specificity of "the illiterate" and the judgement of "helpless." There's a difference of values.
Where the father sees the actions there's no judgement. The son, on the other hand, sees the inability to destroy the world as helpless -- reinforcing a more black and white emotional standpoint.