Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), and Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications). She also wrote the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement, Self Storage (Ballantine), Delta Girls (Ballantine), and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), which received a Silver Nautilus Book Award and was chosen as a state-wide read in Wisconsin. Gayle served as Inlandia Literary Laureate from 2012-2014. She teaches in the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor and Writer in Residence at Sierra Nevada College.
Hello! the old man yells
from the seat in front of us.
Hello! to the window every five minutes or so,
jostling us from books, from talk, from sleep.
Hello! LA River graffiti.
Hello! Pastures of cows.
Hello! Llamas and lumber mills and clotheslines.
Hello! When a car flips onto the tracks.
Hello! When the train starts up again two hours later.
40 hours of Hello! up the entire West Coast,
through farmland and forest,
darkness and mountain, and we don’t change
our seats when given the chance
because how often do we get to hear someone
greet each inch of the world?
His Hello! punctuated only by Jesus
Christ! and Where am I?
and, when we pass the ocean,
IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!
Upon hearing that directors tell extras in movies to repeat
the word rutabaga to simulate background conversation…
That soft-focus couple leaning towards one another
in the café—they’re saying rutabaga, rutabaga,
oh, rutabaga, my love while the leading lady
sighs into her scone in the foreground, drips glycerin tears
that catch the light. Those kids in the school
yard are mumbling rutabaga under the jungle gym,
shouting rutabaga from the dodge-ball court,
chanting rutabaga jump-rope rhymes
before the car comes crashing through the chainlink.
The people in their evening wear, holding champagne
flutes on the grand staircase while the leading man
stalks about sniffing for bombs—all of them
are speaking of root vegetables in the most dulcet
and mannered of tones.
When life’s camera angle changes, when
you and I fade into the background,
will our tongues turn into that root, steamed
musty and dumb by the age of our lungs?
Will we be consigned to mouth those four syllables
to one another, sputter their starch
into the air between us? Bring it on, I say;
it won’t matter if our common dictionary
boils down to a single subtle vegetable.
When you say rutabaga to me, darling,
I know I’ll understand.