“Gertrude Stein, Part Two” by Lori Lasseter Hamilton

annotations, headnotes, footnotes, biographies.
bibliographies, indexes, tables of content, concordances.
a jumble of words. a critical mass
packed into my brain as i study for class,
pasting all the pieces of this anthology together
like a jigsaw puzzle. jigsaw pieces jumbled, crumbled
like coffee cake at breakfast. with coffee,
coffee cake tastes great. coffee coughs in the coffee pot as it sizzles.
feel your tongue shrivel in the coffeehouse as you sip it,
burning you up before you get on the mic,
your tongue left numb, not able to recite
your poem, like
chocolate, melts in the sun.
i once put a 45 of elvis in the sun
that baked the back window of my parents’ car,
a brown ’76 chevrolet malibu.
elvis melted like a chocolate bar.
my mom was pissed.
i had warped and deformed the sound of elvis’s hips.
piss in the wind. piss on red ants.
the ant hill drowns in your urine. ants in your pants.
you’ve got to pee really bad, so bad it’s like there’s ants in your pants.
when i was in vacation bible school, i stepped on an ant hill, wearing only sandals.
the ants were red. an anecdote.
calamine lotion is an antidote to stings and bites. my foot burned on fire.
i’m fired up about reading this anthology. i’m a bibliophile.
an antidote to boredom is reading an anthology, an anthology of poetry with annotations and footnotes.
one foot in the grave. footsteps creeping down the hall
to the past. the past retold
in bibliographies and headnotes.
an anecdote told and retold, recounted countlessly in biographical headnotes:
emily dickinson having the top of her head taken off. feeling like that is poetry.
quote: “when i read a poem, if i feel as if the top of my head has been taken off,
i know that is poetry.” the exposed brain of emily.
like a scene in hannibal the movie. a crime scene. the cop in hannibal lecter’s dining room
sitting at table. the feast. the beast.
the cannibal’s electric carving knife whirs. brain surgery.
does a brain surgeon read poetry?
does a poet perform brain surgery?
when he writes, do his words make you think?
when a poet speaks, does she make you listen?
listless boredom. i am bored
reading footnotes. they interrupt my reading
like commercials on tv. the muse hits me. she punches me in the nose,
gives me a nosebleed. so i go back to watching tv
and i bleat like a sheep. baa baa black sheep have you any wool?
i have a hole in my coat, a hole in my wool
because i am poor. i am the black sheep of my family
because i married poor. we both work hard all night bringing in the sheaves
bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves
sheath. i unsheath my sword.
i uncloak my dagger.
i take the cap off my ink pen.
watch me swagger
as i walk to the stage,
get on the mic,
and read the words on this page.
clever turns of phrase
“j. evans pritchard pitches a fit.”
he writes the quote “excellent essay”
understanding poetry
after he pitches a tent
in the snowy woods near a new england cave
where young boys shout
and their echoes never reach the deaf ears
of poetry critics or essayists
like j. evans pritchard.
his ear tubes are sealed,
canals closed, eustachian tubes muddied
by wax, bogged down by dirt and soap
caked up and dried for years. he doesn’t hear.
his eustachian tubes are stuffed up, like sinuses in a head cold,
his hearing stashed away
like a wedding dress yellowing in an attic.
i’m married to poetry.
it’s my life.
i wanted to marry one of the boys from dead poets society,
be his wife,
walk through woods with knox overstreet
in a wool peacoat with toggle buttons
but i’m not as cute as chris,
with her button nose and blond hair.
but more than that, i wish i could’ve been in robin williams’ class,
where he told those young boys to tear out j. evans pritchard’s essay,
rip the pages of understanding poetry from their textbook spines,
crumple the sheets into a wastebasket.
skip the intro and go
straight to “the wasteland”
or “the love song of j. alfred prufrock.”
i just want to read the damn poem,
not 20 pages of annotations, bibliographies, commentaries, and headnotes.
how intellectual do i have to be?
never again will there be a movie like dead poets society to inspire me
like it did in 1990,
on a college break in a theater at eastwood festival center,
now long gone, turned into another theater.
j. evans pritchard,
you’ll never understand poetry.
it’s not meant to be
easily measured on a diagram
like an algebraic equation,
poetry reduced to science, math, and formula
makes me think. then,
the top of my head falls off,
my brain spills out,
and i die.

LoriLassetterLori Lasseter Hamilton has been active in poetry slams and open mics in Birmingham, Alabama since 1992. She has competed in the Montevallo Poetry Slam since 2003. She was almost arrested for reciting a poem with profanity in it at Birmingham’s City Stages Spoken Word Festival in 1996. She is married to Robert Hamilton.