Audrey Gradzewicz wants to “write about all of the beautiful crass things we mistake for ugliness.”
Audrey Gradzewicz published her poem “Because When I Translate Middle English, I Always Assume that Bread is the Body of Christ” in the most recent issue of The Puritan, Winter 2017. As part of our ongoing Author Notes series, she lets us in on the composition of the poem.
When I set out to write “Because When I Translate Middle English, I Always Assume that Bread is the Body of Christ,” I wanted to write a poem about piss. Or rather, I wanted to write a poem about pissing into a Wendy’s soda cup at 2 a.m. on my friend’s balcony and throwing the contents over the side, the way I admired the strange, sparkling arc of that piss, the way it claimed for itself a distant streetlamp’s light. I wanted to write about all of the beautiful crass things we mistake for ugliness.
But the poem I wrote was not about piss, or that piss, or even pissing people off, which is my one real talent. Or maybe it is somehow about that piss, which I associate somehow still with a kind of tenderness. The story of that piss: I had spent all day with my friend whose marriage was falling apart and who did not want to be alone. I was cold comfort. I ate dinner with her silently, drank a beer with her silently, watched the Twilight movies with her in relative silence, too. Once, only once, I patted her shoulder awkwardly and said there, there as she cried.
I wanted to write a poem about pissing into a Wendy’s soda cup at 2 a.m. on my friend’s balcony and throwing the contents over the side …
I am incapable of platitudes, could not assure that there were other fish in the sea, that her true soulmate was out there, or that maybe she and her husband could patch things up. At last, she went to her room and fell into a sound sleep. Her snores filled all the silent places in the house. But she had locked her bedroom door, and off of her bedroom was her one bathroom. Even with a bladder full of beer and watered-down fast-food pop, I could not bring myself to wake her up. So I pissed into a cup on her balcony.
There is always someone imagining what animals would say if they could talk. Even I am guilty of this; when I speak as my beloved Newfoundland, Gelert, I give him his own lexicon and syntax. Though South Park’s Mr. Hankey gives a voice to [Christmas] poo, no one imagines what piss says. But I think that that particular piss said every tender thing I could not say to my friend. I love you. I’m here. Be safe. Be well.
It was that tenderness that really inspired “Because When I Translate Middle English, I Always Assume that Bread is the Body of Christ.” The distance and closeness of friends, of the strange and ghostly shapes that love takes. The love of a mother, even, even loving God. The poem is about self-love, though not in a Hailee Steinfeld “Love Myself” way, despite all of the vulvas. The poem is about love even though there is sadness and self-injury and so much ordinary human wreckage here. This poem is about love even though the poem, like its writer, is sometimes suicidal. This is the one platitude I have convinced myself of. Survival is its own kind of love.
But back to piss.
If I were to sum this poem up, I might say that it is what a scrawny, worm-infested, but surprisingly large-testicled dog says when he pisses on a tree:
I’m here, chumps.
Audrey Gradzewicz was born in Buffalo, New York. Her poems have been published by, or are forthcoming from, Southern Indiana Review, Thank You for Swallowing, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Poets.org, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, Lockjaw, Passages North, and Smartish Pace.