Thank You, Gertrude

August 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

After work, I asked my friend and co-worker to go to happy hour with me.  I needed to vent about work.  We talked for two hours, mostly about our jobs, but about the rest of life too.  We didn’t come up with any answers, or make a plan to make our work life better; we just had to process.  I think this must be a female thing.  I’m tempted to sit here and ponder my life’s difficult questions, and try to figure out what to do next, but I won’t.  Not tonight.  In fact, I remembered an old poem of mine that I wrote in the spring of 2004.  It’s no great work of literature (not as long as I’m living, anyway), but it speaks to me tonight.  Here it is.

“Thank You, Gertrude”

Everyone called him Hollywood because he was from there.
But he was more Slovenia than California:
He liked a good polka
And to dinner parties brought sausage and potatoes.

In grade school (and at college it happened too)
The teachers would scan the room, as teachers do,
and ask, Jonathon?
Koro…shek?  Is that Russian?

Hollywood sat next to me in seventeenth century lit
he wore old jeans and baseball tees
(the kind with grey, three-quarter length sleeves)
and converse shoes from ninety-three.

He baked chocolate chip cookies
kept his bedroom clean
rode his bike to Dairy Queen
and wrote his senior thesis on the relationship between Stein and Picasso and what Cubism did for literature.

One warm May day
(I remember the sweat pooling)
drinking iced lattes
at Bob’s on Lyndale,
we wondered if Milton was a misogynist
(Yes, but our reasoning made God one too.)
Debated if Donne knew love
(Of course!  After all, he was a poet!)
And–frowning into our books–
We asked if war could be written about honestly.
(We shrugged our shoulders and said
It’s all relative anyway.)

The bit about war shut us up.

We sat outside the cafe
heads in our hands
elbows to the table
While a four foot boy picked his nose
And the girl with red dreds fell in love.

Who is Gertrude Stein, I asked.
He showed me a portrait
That old famous one:
A woman dressed in brown
slumped in a brown chair.

She was a writer he said.
She was older than the others.
She could have been their mother.

Look at this, he said, pointing to a poem.
I read a line aloud
If I told him would he like it.  Would he like it
if I told him.

and like the poets of the nineteen-twenties Paris
we conducted our very own private salon
Shutters shut and open and so do queens.  Shutters
shut and shutters and so

silly and pretentious
with each line I sped up and became a Broadway star
Who comes too coming coming too, who goes there,
as they go they share, who
shares all, all is as all as as yet or as yet.

We fell on our backs in pleasure of the repetition
and closed our eyes in reticence.

And when it got to the part after
As presently
As as presently.

When it goes
He he he he and he and he
I got the giggles.

It reminded me of the game at summer camp
where the object of the game
is not to laugh.
We lay heads on each others’ bellies
Bodies in a checkered design on the floor
and begin.
Our counselor Katie started first: HE
Then Shannon: HE HE
Kaela shouted: HE HE HE
But by the time it got to me, I lost it.
And we were all in tears.

And I wondered if Gertrude Stein wrote the portrait of Picasso
to make us laugh and throw our heads back
in glee
Only she makes me giggle like an awkward pubescent camper
And makes me think:

Who cares if Milton is a misogynist?


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