TENDER BUTTONS (1914) is a book by Gertrude Stein
07/18/10 | Novel

Tender Buttons

by a Titular Collaborative


What comes is what more than I could tower. Holding run a left, another left. I help water across a lawn. All my mornings have been spent. What I know is nothing more than glass, malleable desire blown into a tortoise. Left, another left. I know of several men who hold me—let that be a lesson, in thaumaturgy, in etiquette. A hawk could stain this shirt. A hare is only made delicious when bent. A salmon should never be spoken about publicly unless wanting arrest. I am nowhere nearer to what I wanted to abandon. There, in the streets, I am known as charred, aluminum, rust without a barrier, martyrdom, or beveling. What is clearer boxed in. A hole, of sorts. I have several of them—none of which produces a sound, or sterling. Jettison, a thought or several. A cyst still emerges. I have mouthfuls, I trade them for my grinder—my gender, oh, my gender. A tongue to set aside, a lip to stop singing. What I’d cull to be left alone, perpendicular on a pier, of sorts, of things. This way sent me to the mountains. That way is no way out. One to one I am only so many people at once. Let me chide the back of your hand, a good fist, a blunder, a wound made ready. Venison under the dinner table. A pocket.


[ FOOD ]


This is the worst of it. In grade school we drew ice cream, pizza, and ate the drawings. Paper melts practically. Cheese-yellow crayon wax slides on the tongue and coats the throat. Not felt not wool–

Nor even silk. Silk is tricky we compare the best chocolate to silk. Burn victims know, an abandoned masochist knows for sure. Former kidnappees know if they haven’t forgotten what it’s like willfully typically.

We were told if we had longer hair we would suck it too. We flipped our eyelids. We wished our hair would grow.


The soft mixed kind. Paperclips taste like new blood. Money tastes like some fresh water. We taste like true gastronomes.


A splinter dream. A cultural experience. An acclimation slash accommodation. The salty taste of a sturdy home breaking our mouths.


Butter in a jam jar ajar like a door knob still shiny maple over butter over buttermilk waffles brown as burnished gold not so yellow not so buttery an effect buttering up milkman postman both trucks stuck in mud ugly mud on face on arms neck knees legs butcher boots.

But butter is grace is utterance is warm fire mother’s warm hands but for dad in a bunker.

Big summer bumper crop of honeycomb and languor like a bath lathering.

Ice cream in mouth in open chuckle but take the memory in float down.

But button down the soapy memory she said button down the blue house and luggage walks and good fairground fun because the times are slipping down on knees like the old warring years.

But for the buckeye butterflies over marigold flutter flutter aflutter.



The first breath is a main entrance, the last thought before breaking in. The only thing I’ve ever been good at is practicing. Dreams were a talent I developed out of an early hobby of sleeping. Since then, I’ve learned insomniacs count missiles like sperm rather than sheep. Sometimes, I’m never even sure there is a target until I crack its eggshell.

Unlike me, pharmacies are bright, really clear until I walk out of them. Sheep follow each other down my throat, and I always lose count. I know when one arrives, the journey may never have existed. To those in the waiting room, the approach matters only to the disease being cured.

But there’s a traffic jam on the road to recovery, and I take baby steps towards nowhere.


Gertrude Stein walked through her bedroom door and sat on the bed. She stared at the wall for a few minutes. The door opened and Pablo Picasso walked through it. Gertrude did not turn to look at him. He lifted one eyebrow, turned about face to close the door, and climbed it, the door, up the wall, to the ceiling, to the center of the room. Standing upside down with his arms held out, Pablo Picasso impersonated a ceiling fan, glaring down at Gertrude Stein.

She stared at the wall for a few minutes, refusing to look up at him. Picasso glared down at her. They were like wax sculptures of themselves. Gertrude Stein lifted both her legs and began jumping on the bed. As she jumped on the bed, higher and higher, nearly reaching the ceiling, where Picasso was still glaring down at her, her eyeballs left their sockets and fell to the floor like marbles.

Ceiling Fan Picasso said, Gertrude, pick up your eyeglasses. We are expecting guests any moment. It is almost party time. Looking up, she told the ceiling fan, Writing is my thing. You are a painter. I don’t paint ceilings in Venice and you don’t write all over my face while I’m sleeping — caprice? Ceiling Fan Picasso closed his eyes. Crossing his arms, he said, I’ve never been to Venice — you know that. Gertrude began jumping on the bed again.

Ceiling Fan Picasso opened his eyes and spun his arms in little circles. His body spun around clockwise. His arms blended into his body and his body blended into the ceiling, spinning loose hair on the eyeballs, on the floor, rolling about the room in circles becoming squares becoming hexagons becoming sunbeams ripping through Gertrude’s tender anus, trapping her in a prison cell constructed not of piss nor vinegar nor fecal matter, but tiny pieces of coffee cake with missed connections posted abstractly by glassy-eyed shoestring potatoes leaping out of coffee cans with the velocity at which unused business cards plagued by poor graphic design find their way into dumpsters hidden behind empty lofts in the gourmet ghetto.

Someone knocked at the front door.

Gertrude rolled down the stairs wrapped in her faux fox-skin coat. She peeped just in time to see a vacuum hose placed to the other side of the hole. The vacuum grabbed her eyeball and sucked her through to the other side.

On the other side Gertrude Stein was 64 feet tall. But her feet were normal size. So she had to sort of knee-walk toward the bay in order to avoid crushing her peanut brittle heels beneath the weight of her massive fox-skin.

Flossing with her toes, Gertrude Stein bathed her 20-foot foxtail in the bay, where she was easily mistaken for a sea creature. A group of jets rolled in from the clouds, peppering her arms with missiles the size of pellets to Gertrude Stein. Ouch, she cried, that stings! With one of her huge hands, she swatted the jets. They crashed into the bay the way confused pelicans plunge into a birdbath sometimes. Silly pelicans.

Gertrude Stein leaned her head down into the water, into her tender button, where she rolled into herself, into a ball of dough. The ball of dough sunk to the bottom of the bay. A submarine slipped past in search of sea monsters. Giggling, a few stray bubbles escaped the flesh folds for the surface, preceding the rise of the dough ball that once was Gertrude Stein, as it floated up, breached the surface, and fell into outer space.