Christina Murphy lives near the Ohio River. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals including, most recently, ABJECTIVE, A cappella Zoo, MiPOesias, Splash of Red, LITnIMAGE, Corium Magazine, Blue Fifth Review, POOL: A Journal of Poetry, and Counterexample Poetics. Her work has received two Editor’s Choice Awards and Special Mention for a Pushcart Prize.
Gertrude Stein was Mother Goose was Gertrude Stein
A rose is a rose said Gertrude, the good phenomenologist,
setting aside phenomenology to make categories
a, rose, is, and leaving them undefined.
Tautology? The world of The World is Round
Who’s calling please?
A rose is a rose any good existentialist will tell you
by any other name still undefined.
Gertrude knew it. Are Tender Buttons really tender
Or is this a command—did you command us
a command to offer Buttons in exchange for . . .?
Who’s asking, please?
There is a place where every word must ride
on The Streetcar Named Desire
“Stone shield”—decoder ring of the ancient heart
Oh Gertrude, oh Gertrude, tell us, dear,
Who’s answering, please?
Fellini and I Go to Dinner
Fellini and I go to dinner. The menu holds his attention for a brief while.
Quite promising at first, he says, but ultimately only a list of food by categories. Too Aristotelian for my tastes.
He drops the menu, takes my hand, and says we must leave.
On the streets are hot dog carts with sauerkraut and yellow mustard.
No, no, he says. Not enough opportunities for creativity and design.
He looks at the sky. We must go to your place, he says.
You have food, don’t you?
Yes, but I don’t cook.
Nor do I. It’s better that way.
We take the subway, enter my apartment, he opens my cabinets, my refrigerator.
Fine he says, but it is all illusions. Buddhists, physicists, ask them—they
will tell you. Everything is energy taking illusory forms—the universe’s little joke.
He grabs a can of diced tomatoes. Speed this can up through space and time and it will become pure energy. No can, no tomatoes, nothing we could see. It is true for everything, your mind, your heart, even your lips, he says, kissing me gently. What we must do is make an illusion of the illusion. Open your refrigerator, hand me anything and everything.
And I do. Shrimp in a plastic ring, an opened can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, golden delicious apples, a bag of chopped lettuce, cold cuts, limes—more food than I realized I had. I hand it and hand it to him, and still it keeps coming.
He is intrigued by a red onion. You must juggle, he says. I will toss to you.
The onion comes my way, then two limes, an apple, the can. I am doing my best and have created a small arc in the air of food rising and falling into my hands.
Yes, he says. Wonderful. He is pouring chocolate syrup on the shrimp, and he tosses them to me. I grab for them, a spray of chocolate covers my shirt, my hair, finds its way to the bridge of my nose. I try not to be distracted but I drop the red onion.
No, no, he says. You can only eat what you do not drop.
I am juggling, juggling, the shrimp growing clammy in my hands, the can hard against my palm on each catch. My shoulders ache, my wrists hurt. He is puzzled watching me.
Ah, what we need most, he says, taking a loaf of bread from the shelf. He tosses it into the air and catches it.
Gravity, he says. Another illusion, but a necessary one.
He tosses the bread, I continue to juggle. With his free hand, he pours the chocolate syrup onto my collarbones and watches as it wends its way between my breasts, leaving a sludge of stains along the way.
I am not painting, he says. I am learning to cook. And so are you. He looks at me for a brief moment. Faster, he says, and tosses the loaf of bread to me.
I cannot catch it but do manage to wedge it between my elbows while I juggle in an even tighter circle, my hands looking like small fins responding to some unseen current.
He laughs. Very good, he says. You are a collage. A collage of illusions. It is all we have to store against our ruins. No more, no less. Not even a dream, and certainly not a mythology.
He is smiling at me.
You may stop now, but abruptly, he says.
I do, and the can of tomatoes comes down first, rattling hard against the floor. The limes and the apple roll away, and the shrimp land in a glob.
He looks at me, then the floor.
Do you see what I mean about illusions? he says.
I nod, though I am not sure.
There is nothing here to eat. So-called food scattered all about, but nothing to eat. Pretenses and pretenders all, but speaking a certain truth. As Shakespeare would say, “So I have heard, and do in part believe it.”
He takes a paper towel and wipes the chocolate smudges from my face.
You must never be a juggler, he says. You are of the Romantic era, as am I. No jugglers. Stillness—all emotions ideationally contained. As the Ancient Mariner would say, you and I must be “as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”
He does a small turn, then a little dance. Yes, yes, he says, we must vanquish illusions with an illusion. We must go in search of painted food upon a painted table. Only then will our hunger truly be satisfied.
I wipe a strand of hair from my eyes.
You look hungry, he says.
Well, let us go then, you and I, to find the painted image on the painted plate that will satisfy our needs and our all too human longings.
Where do we find that? I ask.
Here, he says, pointing to his heart. The greatest painted ocean of all.