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  • From a Woman Who Wants to Be Objectified in the Ways She Wants to Be, and: Every Time It Rains, a Requiem
  • Hannah Baker Saltmarsh (bio)

From a Woman Who Wants to Be Objectified in the Ways She Wants to Be

When I talk to you in my head, Maestro, ask you to inhabit myediting voice, I know I've gone too far. Or use yourgranddaughter's name to order coffee, it's all too much.But then so are you. Why do all your students want first dibs oncat-sitting rights while you're abroad, annoyed to take turns in the apartment,with the cat Boo dipping a paw into the tub, then a touchon my soapy bare shoulder just the few days of my turn in it?I read one of your three book proposals Boo thinks she too has discovered,plowing her face against the page corners, intern shadowingin the Acquisitions Department. This book's from another century almost, How We GotEyes, on botanists who painted flora with the hairs of squirrel tailsfanning out of a quill, dyes of tree gum, a poisonous, deep redforged of mercury combustions, or of smeared dead female insects for lighter shades.You write about botanists mixing colors in mussels, even painting six-hours straightin the fields, in the heath, because there were no touristy snapshots with digitalerasure, no clever Instagram captions, no one Internet-famous. Betteryet to memorize a line than write it down, the prayer in the cathedral that summed upParadise Lost in a fragment: And though we were born into a holy world, it is one [End Page 43] that is tissued and structured with sin . . . I can't remember the rest, only thatwe looked up—as if Evensong could botanize tourists—made eye contact at that moment.

2. Adjectives for Everyone (Like Beautiful)I stopped by your apartment for a letter of recommendationand saw you even have an annotated scrapbook of clippings,drawings, articles—which you call a commonplace book—on ginger. Why?In Italy, a woman told us that all foreigners use the same three or four adjectives;now you're adding to a small book you call Adjectives for Everyone.What I want when you die? The belief that you only told me, Keats meant youwhen he said ''beauty is truth.'' That it wasn't a line because no one everheard it, no students, wives, animals, specimens, inanimate objects you addressin the dark or write to, the pen strung to your towel rack in the powder room.When will you finish the one that has Darwin's dog Piper,Samuel Johnson's feline Hodge, and other pets of greatsin some delicious, existential conversationwe would feed upon, like orphans of Dickens-emaciation on treacle syrup?

3. NotesAnd I want that leaf: I know you keep a specimen inside your folioof Paradise Lost, a leaf so old that it makes you think it's from the goddamn treeof good and evil; finding it again's easy. See the writing's in two ways, with four pagesto an open page. See the word Notes, one's upside down. An upside-downword's not mirror image. It's not backward either. What is it?The time you were writing a chapter on Milton's teeth, you must have strokedthat leaf how many times? I know this much from touching the leaf:you don't want to turn a specimen over—the envelopes are for particlesand seeds you lose. This plant isn't mountedto a large sheet; if it were, you'd want to keep it in a natural position.How to arrange all these elegies for my mentors, even the Death Poet,without procrastination. Write the elegy, you ordered in an email.Which one? They are all dead or likely to be before I can talk. [End Page 44] I would sit in the office, offering nothing. One said about me,Teaching got her talking, her head out from under that pink Maryland hat.My high-pitched voice was a scattered bright Zip...


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