Ten Ways of Considering Wallace Stevens’ Secretary

by Melanie Faith
“Life consists/ of propositions about life. The human// reverie is a solitude in which/ we compose these propositions, torn by dreams.”—Wallace Stevens, “Men Made Out of Words”
“Wallace Stevens, on the other hand, dictated his poems to his secretary at the Hartford Insurance Company, where he worked.” –Roger Rosenblatt

i.

Did she realize as she pushed
e, p, q, r later
on the manual Underwood typewriter, that
she was a conduit
to literary greatness? Or was he just
a slightly musty scent of cigarette
and unwashed aftershave, a banker’s style suit
who reminded her “plenty of girls
would be glad to take your job”
when she asked off early
for a class in beginner’s photography?

ii.

Did she prefer to tuck
a red bow into her pageboy? Did he notice
her new gray pillbox hat with gold piping?
Just another day, another
tuna fish on wheat in her lunch pail Wednesday
and a tea break she prepared for him, then
brought in on a tray before he got fussy?

iii.

Patsy or Betty or Mildred or Margaret?
Edith or Helen or Myrtle or Phyllis?
Dolores or Doris or Esther-Sue or Alice?

iv.

Childless? A child herself? Grandmother? Mother
of more than a few of her own poems
once she got into it, once she saw how he didn’t
hesitate but picked the pulses of syllables
as if from thin air as her pencil, at first hovering there,
strove to affix each ticking t, each plosive p
to the steno pad for typing? Hey, anyone could
do this!

v.

Could she guess by his tone
when he buzzed her yet again from the front room
on the intercom? Ah, this will be another
invoice, a thank you note for Mr. and Mrs. Smith
who hosted yet another charity brunch fundraising
for such-and-such, another memo
meant for Corporate. Was there
a peculiar, fetching crackle of energy in
his prosody coming on, like a staticky broadcast
from RadioFree Europe—the war is over? Peace
begun.

vi.

Did she dare, while steeping
his afternoon Earl Gray or at the end of a Thursday
while slinking into her leather kid gloves
that had been a present from her parents
at her birthday, to suggest, “You know,
on the way in today, when I turned the corner
at Elm and Park, I saw the most mystifying thing…”
Did he nod and consider
each little scrap she brought with her?

vii.

With every stanza could she squint ahead
20, 45, 80 years to the bored high school, prep
school, college kids leaning on elbows, fidgeting
with pens and pagers and cellphones texting
while these same enjambments blended
into desktops, fell from ears awaiting
the freedom ring of an hourly bell? Who can tell

viii.

if she had her own concerns? If she had bigger
concerns than the matter of a dinner date next
Saturday, a hole in her workaday shoes
not meant to be peep-toe, a mother in hospital
doing less and less well? And who will care

ix.

for the written word? Who will deliver it
from scribe to audience? Is she the channel
of his every better thought, if not a better deed–
a copy of his book signed and left
on her blotter for Christmas instead of a bonus.
Just Thelma, 37, in need of a clip and curl
an appointment for tomorrow at three—
the every woman behind every great man?

x.

The way he said it, that’s
the way I wrote it. I didn’t really
think much of it.


 

Author-Photo-Melanie-Faith-12-2011Melanie Faith holds an MFA in poetry from Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work was published in Foliate Oak (May 2011), Epiphany Magazine (October 2011), Up The Staircase (Fall 2011), and forthcoming in Ray’s Road Review. Her poetry was a semi-finalist for the 2011 James Applewhite Poetry Prize, and she recently had an essay about editing poetry published in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Writers’ Journal. Her writing was published in Referential Magazine (July and June 2011), Tapestry (Delta State U., Spring 2011) and Front Range Review (U. of Montana, Spring 2011). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work won the 2009 Anne E. Sucher Poetry Prize for the Iguana Review. She has been a small town journalist, an ESL classroom teacher for international students, and (currently) a literature and writing tutor at a private college prep high school and a freelance editor.

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4 thoughts on “Ten Ways of Considering Wallace Stevens’ Secretary

  1. Annette Harvill says:

    Melanie,

    I could see this poem: It is alive, and very well written as you know. Your poem gave me a good laugh, which is always good, thank you. A little boy used to say to me “You do good work!” That has always stayed with me, he was quite special, and so is your poem.

    Like

  2. Annette Harvill says:

    Melanie,

    I could see this poem: It is alive, and very well written as you know. Your poem gave me a good laugh, which is always good, thank you. A little boy used to say to me “You do good work!” That has always stayed with me, he was quite special, and so is your poem.

    Like

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