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Like my brownhouse:
   poetry and a non-Jewish adventurer
Saturday, December 11 2004
This afternoon at 2pm Gretchen was one of two featured readers at tonight's meeting of the Woodstock Poetry Society, which took place at Woodstock's town hall in downtown, well, Woodstock. Gretchen had invited all the usual suspects, and we had good turnout. Peter (the guy who had represented me in the Esopus Town Court), Javier (our Columbian Spanish teacher), Tara, the folks from the top of Eagle's Nest, and our adventurer friend & occasional client Jon. and, even though my suspicion is hardly of the usual variety, I came along as well. The show opened with some "open mike" poetry and, as you can imagine, the results were mixed. Then came the first featured reader, Gretchen. I know I'm biased but I have to say she did an excellent job and the poems she read were absolutely superb, even the one named "Gus Mueller, 7A" from her unpublished manuscript called Buzzer Listing (here published without permission):

The room I claimed
each summer had a closetful
of MAD magazines
to gorge on cold

mountain nights by lantern.
The woodstove was on
by breakfast, sunfish

last evening and now
back in the pan.
All over the lake
we canoed.

All over the mountain
I scrabbled myself
into shinsplints. My
father, and his old friend,

and my father's boy:
me. The days droned
with blackflies, the house
leaked and sighed

in its closets.
The days were full
of tiny wonderlands,
which were really moss,

which were really
which were moss patches.
Five mosses

and ten greens
in each patch.
The velvet kind,
the silver kind,

the starry kind...listen
to me—it sounds like
I'm talking about
the sky.

That one actually made Kathy from the Catskill Animal Sanctuary weep; I could see her dabbing her eyes from the corner of my eyes but I was too modest to look actively.
A common thread through much of Gretchen's poetry concerns her decision not to have children, and what that means for her place in her family, the world, and time itself. It's a deep, complicated issue full of sublime logic, delicious paradox, and primitive ticking machinery. For others a need for such things might be fulfilled by a baby itself, but for Gretchen the issue seems to be enough. In it she can find the chaos just barely balanced by elegance that makes for a great poem.
Interestingly, our college friend Kristen had to leave the room before Gretchen got around to reading because her infant had started to make a fuss, the sort through which Gretchen's chaos and elegance might have been less discernible.
When the second featured poet read, a grey fog of mediocrity seemed to descend, for here was a poet who could take even the most extraordinary events (the drowning of rabbits during the filling of a Portuguese reservoir) and make it sound like a hum drum thing. Gretchen, remember, had just turned clumps of moss into self-contained pre-Copernican universes.
For a good while after the featured readers, we were treated to yet more punishment in the form of open mike poetry. The problem with poetry as an art form is that it tends to be write-only. The problem with events like this is that some of that write-only art actually gets read.
After the poetry finally, mercifully, ended, Gretchen and I went with Tara to a Woodstock bakery called Heaven. There we sat and talked about stuff mostly of interest to Gretchen, particularly her defiance of the child bearing norm. Even with her best friends, it's unusual for Gretchen to find agreement on this issue, but Tara right there with her, at least philisophically. Biologically, though, she senses disagreement, something she never felt back when she was Gretchen's age, 33. She's 39, and, though she looks spritely and youthful, she readily admits to being "middle age." Indeed, she thinks someone as young as Gretchen should accept being middle age too.
Jon, the adventurer guy who had come to Gretchen's poetry reading, was having a book signing and slide show in a second floor bar called Joshua's nearby, so we made an appearance. That had, after all, been sort of the agreement. When we arrived Jon was showing slides against a wall, though the wall wasn't completely bare; intruding into it was a shelf stocked with bottles of beer, and sometimes these made sense in the context of the slide projected on them. For example, there was one slide of our weary salt-encrusted explorers resting against a boulder high on the Alto Plano and above their heads, built into the boulder, there it was, a shelf holding three different brands of cerveza (including the ubiquitous Corona).
After the slide show and book signing, Gretchen and I joined Jon and some friends down at the Bear Restaurant in Bearsville. Included in our group was a fashion photographer and occasional grape farmer, as well as a long time Woodstock microcelebrity named Bananas (I kid you not; even Tara knew who he was). We sat at the bar drinking a couple bottles of wine and eating appetizer-type foods. I had the ravioli with oyster mushrooms and it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, though that might have just been because it had been cooked with an unusually large amount of oil and salt. The fashion photographer/grape farmer knew a lot about wine and kept coming back to the subject of Yellow Tail's brilliant business model: produce a mass-market (but reasonably good) wine with an expensive-looking label and sell it for $6/bottle.
At some point Gretchen learned that Jon had been raised by a Lutheran family and wasn't Jewish, something that came as a complete surprise given his name. But she should have known better; aside from Christopher Columbus, Neil Armstrong, and Woody Allen in Sleeper, how many professional Jewish adventurers can you think of?

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