‘Oh God’ by Michelle Tea explores the transience of love, with the poet reflecting on the instability of her past relationship. The relationship Tea presents are unbalanced in terms of the power dynamics, Tea always following the commands of her lover. The smallest physical contact is cause for celebration for the poet, hungering after a love that is not reciprocated. Tea realizes the fleeting nature of love, just like physical connection, coming and going without cause.
‘Oh God’ by Michelle Tea begins with the poetic voice, here representing Tea herself, getting into her lover’s car. She does not run to him, walking with an incredible burden as she draws closer. As she enters the car, they share an awkward hug, only lasting a few seconds. That moment of physical connection is something that Tea tries to hold onto, before realizing the transience of love, ‘it dying away’ as quickly as it came. The poem is melancholic, with the poet reflecting on the state of her relationship.
You can read the full poem here.
Tea’s ‘Oh God’ is written across three stanzas, each measuring 6 lines. There is no rhyme scheme within the poem, the poet instead electing long images that run on through several lines. The choice to not rhyme within the poem could reflect Tea’s lack of connection with her lover, the disharmony between them being a larger focus than their actual love. This could also explain the stanza division within the poem, the odd fracturing of images and ideas representing the emotional distance between the two lovers.
One technique that Tea employs when writing ‘Oh God’ is the use of enjambment. Across the second to the third stanza, the final line of the 2nd stanza is enjambed in order to quickly run on to the following line. In this second stanza, Tea explores the metaphor of their physical connection being represented through something they could eat. Yet, by employing enjambment, this idea is quickly connected with ‘but you weren’t hungry’, emphasizing that her lover seemingly wants nothing to do with her. Enjambment allows for these ideas to be rapidly linked, therefore forming the realization that her love is unrequited.
Another technique that Tea uses when writing ‘Oh God’ is the manipulation of traditional rules of grammar in order to make a point. There is no right or wrong when it comes to grammar, only traditional ways of doing things. Moving away from this tradition, Tea does not capitalize ‘i’ within the poem, the personal pronoun instead of being lowercase throughout. The use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ normally signals that the poem will be engaging with strong first-person emotions, however by employing lowercase, Tea could be representing how her own sense of self has been diminished due to her relationship not working out. Although she clearly is excited to be around her lover, the feeling is not reciprocated, with this impacting Tea’s own perceived self worth. She represents this idea of shame through using the lowercase ‘i’, avoiding any structural attention being drawn to the pronoun that represents the self.
Analysis of Oh God
spilling water from my back,(…)too much, same thing.
The poem begins by exploring the metaphor of Tea ‘spilling water from my back’ and she hobbles to her lover’s car. The image of ‘water’ could here be understood as a symbol of freedom, with the free-flowing form of water moving gracefully. Yet, the fact she is ‘spilling’ this ‘water’ could suggest a lack of freedom, the water metaphorically bottled and carried upon her back instead of being let to flow freely. ‘Spilling’ is therefore polysemous, and can be understood as a slight, slow, regaining of freedom, or a representation of a loss of freedom.
The syntax of the second line of the poem instantly begins the insinuation that Tea values her lover before herself, ‘you’ arriving as the first, and most important, word of the line, while ‘i’ arrives later. The syntax suggests that she is putting her lover before herself, the emotional attachment she has to him clouding her own judgment.
The movement of Tea is described as ‘exhausted’ within ‘Oh God’, the tired nature of the poet reflecting the earlier image of ‘water’ being carried on her ‘back’. This could suggest that Tea is becoming tired of the perpetual state of their relationship, no longer ‘run[ing] to see you’.
The use of caesura within this first stanza also furthers the sense of breathlessness the poet is discussing. There is frequent use of caesura, especially after ‘I’ve been smoking’ is introduced. In doing this, Tea fractures the meter of the poem, inserting a slight break, perhaps reflecting the tired state of breathless she is enduring.
another awkward hug in the car(…)and chowed
The second stanza is the first introduction to the lover, Tea focusing on their ‘awkward hug in the car’. Even this moment of connection that excites her so completely is described as ‘awkward’, something is not right in their relationship.
The violent imagery of ‘my face smashes’ is unsettling when we consider what we already know about their relationship. This, combined with how ‘sad’ Tea is when the hug separates, could signal an emotional dependence on her lover. Although this is not the worst thing that could happen, with relationships often relying on emotional support from each other, Tea then uses the third stanza to reveal it is a one-way devotion.
but you weren’t hungry.(…)gone again.
The third stanza draws away from the physical to examine the emotional state of Tea. She can feel the physical connection between them ‘dying away all day’, pulling away from her as it does.
Their relationship is desired as a ‘gorgeous/ thing that should not have happened’, revealing Tea’s opinion that they should never have begun in the first place.
The final line affirms the end of their relationship, ‘gone again’ signaling Tea’s return to living as a single woman. The short line structure of this line moment in the poem is blunt and cold, representing the breakdown of the emotional connection between the two lovers.