Laura Jensen
1971 Winter — A Long Poem


The University of Washington quad, paths across grass and leafless winter trees, was surrounded by windows, windows from the basement to the upper floors. None were for the Shakespeare classroom. The students stepped from a brick path beside a quad entrance over a threshold into their white cloud-glare Shakespeare classroom. Out its windows was a view of a wall of another building. RICHARD II, MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, AS YOU LIKE IT, TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, JULIUS CAESAR, OTHELLO —  THE MOOR OF VENICE.
         Laura Jensen was taking Shakespeare, the Scandinavian Novel in English, Design, and Advanced Verse Writing.  She had read The Skaters, a long poem by John Ashbery, when she was a Freshman.
         We are nearing the Moorish Coast, I think, in a bateau,  a passage in The Skaters begins. The Moorish Coast was the Coast of Morocco.  Along the Moorish Coast is Casablanca, and beyond, Algiers.
         In "The Skaters" John Ashbery writes, "It is time for a general understanding of the meaning of all this." He explains that too much detail leads to a "death-trap" and makes "collapse of the poem likely."
         Whenever Laura Jensen crossed the street to leave the campus she did not know she passed by a place that was not there anymore. She did not know it had been there, so she was not aware that it was gone.
         According to the internet, when the last Morroccan ruler was driven from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella, he gazed one last time  from a high point above the Alhambra.  The point is known as The Moor's Last Sigh.  A place known as The Moor's Club existed from l922-l925 near the corner of 17th and 45th at the formal entrance to University of Washington.  What was meant by The Moor's Club?  Was it The Shiek, with Rudolph Valentino?  The Moor's Club was a dream of bohemian intellectual life realized.  The Moor's Club knew themselves to be in exile from their own real home in Whatcom County.
         With other men of "The Moor's Club," the portrait of Jens Jensen looks from the pages of the 1924 Tyee. He was Laura Jensen's uncle, her father's oldest brother. Jens Jensen's group was about to be in the trenches in France when World War One ended.  Basic conditions of daily life for the soldiers were harsh, he had influenza in the epidemic and, like many, contracted tuberculosis.  He was cured.  Laura Jensen's father last saw his brother on a visit to Cushman Hospital, in Tacoma, in 1923, when Jens' tuberculosis symptoms reoccurred.  From Tacoma Jens traveled to Idaho and New Mexico to Veteran's Administration hospitals.
         In New Mexico Jens married a clerical worker.  Jens always was good to Ella and made her happy, their daughter explains in a letter.  Jens Jensen died in 1932.  Years later, their daughter finished college on the East Coast.
         The Sheik, with Rudolph Valentino, was not the only silent film to transport the Sahara Desert  to movie theaters.  A popularization of the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia had toured the United States.  Scenes of World War One in Europe had not appeared to audiences, but the Sahara Desert afforded eye-appealing horizons of camels and horses.  According to Eric Leed in NO MAN'S LAND, technological changes had gradually shifted battle stretegies to trench warfare.  Eric Leed explains that from trench warfare emerged shell shock, the first appealed and diagnosed anxiety disorder, and regressive supersitions, like don't light three on a match - triggered by the claustrophobia of the trenches.
         Theodore Jensen continued his 1923 job as a houseboy at the Tolo House. When he walked just up a hill and along 17th toward the formal entrance of the university, Theodore Jensen passed by "The Moor's Club." He worked his way through pharmacy school as a cook on Standard Oil ships to Alaska and Mexico.
         The house was Craftsman style, with craftsman doorways, brackets, design, influenced by the Mediterranean.  At the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue, a form lists its forty-three rooms - two in the basement, eleven on the first floor, sixteen on the second floor, fourteen on the third floor.  There was one brick fireplace.  It was built in 1908 and remodeled in 1910.  There were one thousand square feet of tile work - floors, walls of tile.  The tile work was inspired by Morocco.
         In Seattle City Directories the address began as "The Alamo," a men's club. It was listed as "The Moor's Club" from 1922-1925. During the 1940's and again and again until the structure was torn down in 1960, it was listed as "The Varsity Boat Club." The Varsity Crew had a shell house, but this was a residence they had on 17th, north of the University formal entrance.
         In one Tyee from the 1940's a Varsity Boat Club Dance shows elaborate metal work, décor —  the Spanish Ballroom at a hotel in downtown Seattle. It was their 17th street residence that inspired them to choose the décor.
         When Laura Jensen was a freshman, in 1967, one morning she took a first early morning walk along campus, and she arrived at a bridge over a canal, a deep canal with trees and a stairway down to a sidewalk along the water. She realized later the crew was a constant presence unless they were traveling in competition. They were on the canal, on the waterview from the campus. Even on dark winter days the crew was in training, rowing their shell. That morning she thought she was miraculously fortunate to see real rowers in a shell. They were really rowing, while one man in the back of the boat called out loud commands through a megaphone.
         Why did Laura Jensen know nothing of "The Moor's Club"? She knew nothing of The Alhambra, of Spain or Morocco.
         One evening Laura Jensen crossed back onto Campus in the dark. She walked past, again, her uncle's university residence. But it had been torn down in 1960.
         Lamplight showed the way on brick steps into the classroom building on the quad. A row of windows dark with night lined one side of the brown wood lecture hall, the rows of ascending seats were filled with writing students.
         Nelson Bentley printed names on the blackboard. Those who would read for twenty minutes that night.
         Everyone had written a poem for Nelson Bentley's assignment titled "I see." Laura did not put her name on hers: "I see her faltering, old as she moves/the broom across the porch . . ." It was about a photograph she took of her grandmother.
         Jim Cervantes put another title on his:
         "Waiting for the Bus Outside the House of Bedlam"
         Laura Jensen walked back to her rooming house along 17th. She wore a green sweater she bought with money her father had sent for her birthday. When she reached the rooming house, she always read the words on the one-storey brick building next door, metal words attached in their spotlight: B'NAI BRITH HILLEL FOUNDATION.
         It will be all right. Beyond the hall, in the back of the rooming house, was a kitchen. It was a kind of there, there, kitchen.  There had something to so with there, there, it will be all rightThere did not have much to do with geography or maps. In her cupboard Laura had cans of A & P Soup. Cream of Mushroom, or Cream of Tomato. There was Tuna. There was Vienna Sausage. There, there —  there was a can of Dinty-Moor corned beef hash. And there was Spam. Spam's metal key attached to its side twisted off to unwind the Spam lid. Slice by slice under the broiler with mustard and brown sugar.
         Laura had tried the there, there tuna noodle casserole Peachy sometimes fixed without the oven. She tried the there, there ramen Melissa fixed, a block of thin noodles in a packet. Peachy's ceramic pitcher shaped like a mallard duck was on the top rack in the refrigerator whenever the door opened and the light came on.
         There was instant coffee. And there, there. Many people smoked cigarettes in the 1970's. Laura did. Laura Jensen smoked cigarettes for many years.


                                                      
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Laura Jensen's "I See" poem & Jim Cervantes's "Waiting for the Bus Outside the House of Bedlam"