“What I Heard at the Discount Department Store” ─David Budbill. Q: How soon do you understand that a character, other than the poet, speaks this poem? What is her tone and how do you know it?
In David Budbill’s poem, “What I Heard at the Discount Department Store”, it is evident by line six that someone other than the poet speaks this poem. The poem starts off in first person. The character is an angry mother “dealing” with her young child in a discount department store.
Stop it. I mean it. You know I do. If you don’t stop, I’ll give you fucking something to cry about right here and don’t think I won’t either (lines 2-5).
This displays how the character which is obviously the mother is speaking and it also displays her anger and frustration. The poem continues on and the point of view changes and as the reader, I became the spectator. “So she did. She slapped him across the face. / And you could hear the snap of flesh against the flesh…” (6-7). Understanding that both the poet and the character are speaking in this poem occurs early on and it isn’t until the poem redirects back to first person point of view, that it is understood that there are two speakers in this poem.
Budbill emphasizes the tone of the mother’s character (anger and frustration) by the words he chose for the mother to say. In line three of the poem she drops her first “f-bomb” and does so again in line 20, which is followed by another curse word. “You can get away with fucking murder there, / but you can’t get away with shit like that with me” (20-21).
It is obvious that she is angry by the words she is using with her young child and it is also evident that she is frustrated with her child’s behavior. The mother’s frustration is demonstrated through line 16-21 when she explains how her child is not at school, where she believes him to get away with misbehavior, and that he is now with his mother where no misbehavior is accepted, “You’re not in school anymore. / You’re with your mother now” (18-19).
The tone of the mother’s character is displayed through her choice of words and how she speaks so aggressively to her son.