Come to America

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (with American flag as backdrop), Carl Van Vechten, January 4, 1935

 
 

1 May 1933

 

150 West Fifty-fifth Street
[New York]

 

Dear Gertrude,

 

Wherever one goes̱‒and I just gone to Baltimore‒one hears about your paper in the Atlantic. Everybody loves it. Even Harry Hansen who made some asinine remarks about it really loves it. Anyway, it seems the whole town rose to write and correct him¹. We are all dying for the 20 of May when the June number comes out and when I think I have to wait till July 20 to get at the whole I some times think I can’t bear it and other times I am happy because I have so much pleasure ahead of me! You are a woojums and Alice is woojums and I foresee now that you must, soon or late, come to America and then I will photograph you… I do nothing but make photographs now and they are good… I like your Francis Rose portraits². Edith brings in food on the Carlo plates more often than not, but it does not need that to remind us of you… Fania had her appendix out and is much better than she has been in years, I didn’t have mine out, but I am better too! In this crazy world it is nice to remember that there are two people we love called Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

a great many shell boxes and four orchids to you!

 

Carlo

 

NOTES FROM THE EDITOR:

1. Harry Hansen was a syndicated newspaper columnist.
2. Stein had sen Van Vechten a photograph of a portrait done of her by Sir Francis Rose (1930-33), which is now in the collection of the heirs of Gertrude Stein. She also sent him a photograph of Rose’s Portrait of Alice B. Toklas (1932)

 

The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946
By Edward Burns

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Mercy Street

45 Mercy Street

In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I’m walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign –
namely MERCY STREET.
Not there.

I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant’s teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.

Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
with great-grandmother
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
at noon
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was…
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
me,
with the stranger’s seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.

I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime.

Pull the shades down –
I don’t care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?

Not there.

I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
my life,
and its hauled up
notebooks.

Anne Sexton

 
 

 
 

Mercy Street is a song written by Peter Gabriel from his 1986 album So. The song deals with the life and conflicting emotions of the poet Anne Sexton, and makes frequent allusions to incidents from Sexton’s life and a number of her poems, in particular the work 45 Mercy Street. Themes touched on in the song include suicide attempts, troubled parental relationships, a desire to become whole, attempting to come to terms with the past, and confessing. It is featured in the film Life or Something Like It (Stephen Herek, 2002), starring Angelina Jolie and Edward Burns.