It’s As Clean As The Rest of the Cow (Al Stephens notes)

by jkatejohnston

Remember how Teresa said, “Didn’t you guys write enough about Mr. Stephens when he was alive?” No. Not even close. I never wrote about him while I had him as a teacher, only quite a while afterward. (I graduated in 1990, but took classes for many years afterward. But of course that was after he retired.)  Anyway, here are a few diary entries I wrote about him. Really about me. But he’s mentioned.

27 February, probably around 1992

Dear Max:  I was talking to Mr. Stephens about the poetry class I’m taking from Kia, and I think I was talking about how my brain wants to make sense of the poems so much that I’ll make the fastest sense I can, maybe not even waiting until I’ve figured out how the sentence goes, and then I’m hindered by that first grab at understanding.  I said something about the fact that I’m perfectly satisfied with partial understanding but that Kia isn’t like that. He said, “No, she has to have it all out–she can’t help thinking it all the way through.”

20 October 1995

Dear Max:  I’m still thinking about the end of my novel.  I’m glad you like it all right. But the whole thing makes me think of something Al Stephens once said to me. I had written something about shit on the end of a cow’s tail—knowing nothing about it of course—-and you said, “I think the end of a cow’s tail is pretty clean, usually.” Later Al came into your office, and I told him what you’d said and asked if that were true. He thought for just a moment.  “It’s as clean as the rest of the cow,” he said. That’s about how I feel about the end of my novel.  It’s as clean as the rest of the cow.

9 May 9 1996

Dear Max:  A few recent events.  Mr. Stephens said that Teresa’s self-portrait was marvelous and that he noticed it right away when he came into the room.  And he used the word “striking.”  I should have written his exact words right away.  At the time of our conversation I thought–remember, remember, remember–but now I don’t.  Mr. Stephens is incapable of lying even a little, but that’s only part of what makes his good opinion mean so much to everyone I know.  The main reason is that he sees so much.  I remember when John was taking Five Renaissance Poets from Al for probably the fifth time, and he said, “His mind has more light than mine.”

15 June 1997

Dear Max:  I’ve been editing my diary, and I like it, thank goodness.  I’m amazed by all that marvelous, crabby, cheerful energy, so that now, at twenty-seven, I’m looking back at myself at twenty-five and thinking wistfully about When I Was Young.  Being so fresh and interested–it’s a wonderful, painful state to be in.  It’s like you’re just susceptible to whatever the world throws your way.  It’s sad to think of that leaking away.  I guess you can always hope to make it up in Wisdom.  Am I…am I Wise, Max?  I know that I’m not.  Now I’m reminded of the beginning of Williams’s autobiography, first sentence:  “I was an innocent sort of child and have remained so to this day.”  What a loveable man!  And that’s the way to be, isn’t it?  What passes for wisdom in grownups is usually just caution and laziness.  There are wise people–Mr. Stephens is wise, though I have a feeling he’d hate being called that.  And who is more susceptible, fresh, and keen than Mr. Stephens?

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