This interesting free verse poem is a wonderful example of the poet’s style. When speaking about writing poetry, Wakoski has stated that the “purpose of the poem is to complete an act that can’t be completed in real life.” While one can’t say for certain that the poet is the intended speaker of this poem, it seems likely that the poet did include her opinion about the nature of men and women within its lines.
Explore The Mechanic
‘The Mechanic’ by Diane Wakoski is an image-rich poem that compares men to mechanics, and women, and the complexity of their hearts, to car engines.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by describing how most men use their eyes. They are “like metronomes.” Most men can only hear the most basic sounds emanating from a woman’s heart, or interpret them in the simplest of ways. As the poem progresses, the speaker compares these unintuitive men to “bad drummers.” They only hear the most obvious beats in a song.
As the poem finds its final stanzas, the speaker suggests that there is one type of man that she trusts – a mechanic. This is another metaphor for a man who is in tune with his senses and can differentiate between the many different sounds, or beats, of a woman’s heart/car engine.
You can read the full poem here.
Most men use
she moves her lips
In the first lines of this poem, the poet’s speaker expresses her understanding of how most men work. She utilizes a simile right off the bat, comparing men’s eyes to “metronomes.” They are trained on the beats of a women’s walk, watching their lips and legs move. Here, the speaker suggests that most men only have the ability to hear the simplest sounds, or interpret women in the most basic of ways. Although they may appreciate a woman, they do not, as some men do (seen later in the poem), see into their inner being.
There’s another great example of a simile in the middle of this stanza. The poet compares a woman’s lips to figs “before they split their purple skins on the tree.” It’s not uncommon to see a woman’s body part compared to a fruit or something from the natural world. Another kind of simile or comparison occurs at the end of the stanza when the speaker describes how Milky Way is “glittering for every time / she moves her lips.” This is a beautiful statement. But, it does not touch the inner, complex heartbeat of the woman.
but of course
that even a bad drummer can play
The second stanza is five lines long. The speaker returns to the sound imagery of the beating metronome. Here, she calls that beat “obvious.” It is the beats in a song that even a “bad drummer can play.” This addresses the fact that even those who are the least emotionally and spiritually aware can hear and interpret this beat in a woman. It’s the simplest, most obvious part of her being.
The reference to a “bad drummer” is a great example of a metaphor. The speaker is comparing a man with a simple understanding of a woman’s life and mind to a drummer who has a poor understanding of music.
hearing the speed of the motor
and draining properly into the brain pan,
perhaps a few…
The third stanza is the longest of the poem. It’s within this stanza that the poet transitions from talking about the simple beats of a metronome or a motor to the deeper more complicated sounds that “perhaps a few” can properly hear.
These bad drummers, or unintuitive men, can hear the “speed of the motor.” It is made up of a series of beats that they hear as a “continuous sound.” This is again suggestive of their inability to interpret something deeper, and more complex. The “heart” beats without “any fan belt to keep it cool.” This is a clear connection between the two thoughts, the image of the motor and the heart. Just as the heart runs a human being, the motor runs a car. It is a distinction between a mechanic and a non-mechanic that comes into play at the end of the stanza.
There are some, the speaker suggests, who have their “fingers in ears” so close to the motors. Their closeness “with clean oil passing through their ears” suggests they are far more intuitive than their non-mechanic male counterparts.
This stanza ends with an ellipse. The speaker is considering that these men might be able to interpret the heart of a woman in a more complex and meaningful way. But, she is as of yet unsure. She’s building up to the final thoughts of the poem.
who can tell
is all about
This stanza is the shortest of the poem. It picks up exactly where the previous stanza left off as she is suggesting that “perhaps a few… Who can tell / what the secret bleeding of a woman / is all about.” Here, the poet is alluding to something deep within the heart and soul of “a woman.” She’s generalizing the experience but doing so in a way that gives women a deeper mystery that most men do not have the skill to uncover.
As a woman
The first lines of the last stanza connect back to the image of the Milky Way that readers can find at the end of the first stanza. The speaker refers to herself as “a woman / with oily stars sticking / on all the tip points / of my skin.”
While the speaker is using first-person pronouns at this point, she is still suggesting something about the universal complexity of women. She, like all women, has the complexity of the Milky Way and she could “never trust a man who wasn’t a mechanic.”
A man like this is capable of hearing the fine-tune sounds and differentiating them, that are emanating from her heart. He is a man who uses his “eyes, his hands” and truly listens to the heart.
Structure and Form
‘The Mechanic’ by Diane Wakoski is a five-stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains fifteen lines, the second: five, the third: nineteen, the fourth: three, and the fifth: thirteen. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern to unify the lines.
At first glance, it’s quite obvious how different the line links are throughout this poem. In the final stanza, the poet uses lines that are as short as one word long. For example “the.” Earlier in the poem, such as towards the end of the third stanza, lines are far longer. For example “with clean oil passing through their ears.”
The poet makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Mechanic.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions that appeal to the readers senses. These lines should allow the reader to easily visualize the subject matter the poet is describing. For example: “how her lips press / against the cloth, as figs before / they split their purple skins.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, the use of “Most men” in line one and “woman’s walk” in line five.
- Enjambment: it occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the natural stopping point. It’s particularly effective in this poem. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza as well as one and two of the third stanza. There are many more examples in the poem.
The tone is passionate and assertive. The speaker is expressing her opinion about the different types of men, and the ways they are able to interpret a woman’s heart. She has a very particular understanding of the type of man she would “trust.”
The purpose of this poem is to describe the difference between men who can tell the difference between the various sounds of a woman’s heart, like the different sounds of a car’s engine. The poet uses an extended metaphor, comparing men to mechanics or non-mechanics and women’s hearts to the engines of cars.
The main message of this poem is that a woman is not a single beating sound. She is made up of a wide, changing range of sounds that must be listened to carefully and interpreted with a mechanic’s touch.
Wakoski says that mechanics are the only type of men that the speaker trusts. While she uses the word “mechanics” she is really speaking about men who have more thoughtful intuitive powers and take the time to listen rather than only hearing the most basic of sounds.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Two Women’ by Marcus Wilcox – is a thoughtful and complex poem about identity. The speaker spends the text discussing the lives of two different women.
- ‘A Woman’s Hands’ by Eva Bezwoda – speaks on a wife/mother is proclaiming her distress in the number of tasks she must tend to regarding her family.
- ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou – defies the stereotypes women are often faced with today. It is a poem filled with strength and determination.