A Steinian Passover

Objects, rooms, food. Gertrude Stein wasn’t a mother, but today when toys scatter the floor, laundry has exploded in the bedroom, and I keep thinking don’t forget the oranges, the diaper cream, the shank bone (?) while the baby sleeps, I think of Stein sitting in peace, eyes softly closed at 27 rue de Fleurus, composing the sections of Tender Buttons.

It’s the day before Passover and I am thinking of Stein’s poem/portrait “Mutton,” because I bought a brisket and now I have to cook it. Preparing meat is always a strange proposition. The marbling. The fat. What to cut. What to keep. (How would Alice do it?)

Much like a poem.

“Mutton” begins with “A letter which can wither, a learning which can suffer and an outrage which is simultaneous is principal.”

And then, these thoughts:
Principal—the outrage is on loan.
A letter—the pot of wilted jade.
A learning—always the noun.
Suffer—Prince has died.

And suddenly the poem I just composed means more to me today than I could have imagined:


The outrage is on loan.
The pot of wilted jade,
always the noun.
Prince has died.

I am thinking about the Seder plate. The shank bone—the one I will draw on a piece of paper because I have no bones to spare. The one that was made as an offering in the Temple of Jerusalem, the sacrifice of the lamb.

Stein writes, “A meal in mutton, mutton, why is lamb cheaper, it is cheaper because so little is more.” Was she also writing a Passover poem? What is the Principal on mutton?

I’m drawn though to these lines: “Melting and not minding, safety and powder, a particular recollection and a sincere solitude all this makes a shunning so thorough and so unrepeated and surely if there is anything left it is a bone.”

The combinations Stein offers us are a sacrifice, too. We should not avoid them. “Lecture, lecture and repeat instruction.”

Last year I wrote a Passover poem. I was thinking I haven’t been able to write for some time, and reading/thinking/stealing Stein always sparks something. So here it is:

Shank Bone

The outrage is on loan.
The pot of wilted jade,
always the noun.
Prince has died.
If there is anything left
it is a bone.