Kay Ryan, “Crocodile Tears”

Crocodile Tears (from poetryfoundation.org)
Kay Ryan

The one sincere
crocodile has
gone dry eyed
for years. Why
bother crying
crocodile tears.


“Crocodile tears” isn’t an expression I’ve ever used, so I’ll let The Free Dictionary introduce us to it:

an insincere show of grief; false tears

[from the belief that crocodiles wept over their prey to allure further victims]

Already we’re confronted with something perhaps more puzzling than this poem: “the one sincere crocodile?” Why even bring this up? The very phrase seems to indicate that no crocodile is sincere.

The exceptional crocodile, however, has gone dry eyed for years. Once, he may have cried. We can read “why bother crying crocodile tears” as the reason he quit. It is better to find and devour prey seeing clearly than to have one’s vision blurred as a gambit.

Is that a lesson that can carry over for us? Predatory, exploitative creatures that we are, maybe. Ryan’s use of rhyme attends to themes we might otherwise neglect: “crocodile” / “gone” / “bother.” That would speak to how I’ve described us. “Sincere” / “years” / “tears” – in three short words, a relationship come and gone. Where do desire, lures and sincerity truly meet? “Dry eyed… why” is central, with “for years” between them. Crocodile tears are not for us, are not truly part of our nature. We’d rather shed real tears when all is said and done. Would we remember that when we think ourselves stronger than we are.


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