The Two Yvonnes
For help he said I should read the new translation of a Gogol story called
"The Two Yvonnes," but after I wrote down the title
of course I realized he meant "Ivans," which brought me to the two
Two Yvonnes, one male, one female, whatever her story might be
now that both of her exist in ballpoint on a line of notebook paper.
And because, at my age, facts tend to switch out with mere notions
like star actors being swapped out for lesser-paid stand-ins
the same day I got the time wrong for a friend's book party–
and what could be more spazzy than arriving early for a book party?
Not being an important actor I stayed on the scene and talked
to my friend's husband: Paul, I said, I love your painting, Ezekiel's
Dream, which I saw on that postcard you sent out; how big is it?
He air-sketched a rectangle, tall as an old school window,
and I said, Oh, I thought it was more wide than tall,
at least from the postcard. Oh no, he said, it's more tall than wide. I
didn't believe him but I wasn't going to argue. How's your painting going?
he kindly asked. I don't paint, I said, barely wanting to admit it
since it's so rare to be asked about work. You're too modest!
he said. We had only met a few times so I explained, No really, Paul,
I only write. Go on! he said, imitating me, I only write. Ha ha!
and this sort of exchange continued for some volleys, Paul's guffaws
escalating with each of my more earnest denials. Karen, I said,
finding my friend who was needed across the room because some heavy
guests had started arriving, Paul is mistaking me for another friend of yours
and he thinks I'm a really good painter! This is Jess, Karen said
into Paul's good ear, a thought which went directly to the voting booth
and pressed the lever. He nodded, remembering, and then Karen said to me,
Your hair! It's so much darker! Darker? I asked ... hmmm, I stalled,
trying not to embarrass anyone. Yes! she said, happy to be her honest self,
Much, much darker! You used to have much lighter hair! Who
was she, I wondered, this sandy-haired painter who doubled for me
in their imaginations–the second Yvonne in the new translation–
and who are you? You who I thought the star of my story?
from The Two Yvonnes : Poems / by Jessica Greenbaum – published by Princeton University Press
According to Paul Graubard's site, the painting is called Ezekiel Saw the Wheel. Jessica Greenbaum may be the first in my reading experience to employ the literary device of 'the unreliable narrator' in an author's note. Doubly unreliable, as suits the other doubles inhabiting the poem. Not only was the supposed correction of the painting's title another incorrect one, it also changed Ezekiel (spelled conventionally in the poem) to Ezekial (which looks to me more like the name of a Hobbit).
Consequently, the poem's inherent lovely amazingness (mistake-filled chit-chat transformed before the reader's eyes into meaningful structure, like the Parthenon built out of broken popsicle sticks) becomes even more unlikely and startling and satisfying. (I wrote the preceding sentence – a concluding sentence that comes to a real conclusion – expressly for my daughter, who remarked that she could not figure out what I actually thought about the work of people I had featured in several recent posts.)