Stanford Rodin Sculpture Garden

The Janitor Crushed Me Debating on Rodin

"Only the janitor is here" Connie tells me.
He says "This is my garden." We've come to
The Gates of Hell at Stanford's Rodin Garden
for Waverley Writers Full Moon Poetry Reading

from 9 pm to midnight using flashlights,
but looks like all the poets have gone home
on this Saturday, August 15, 1992.
I read "Cacountala" honoring Camille Claudel,

Rodin's mistress, implying he had stolen ideas
from her after seeing a recent film about them.
The janitor protests "She was just a schoolgirl
when Rodin sculpted The Kiss. I try to impress

him, saying "The Philadelphia Museum is second
in Rodin's sculptures", but he tells me that
"Stanford is now second in size after Paris."
He asks me "Where did you learn art history?"

"At Columbia— Hibbard's 'Art 101', Howard Davis'
'Northern Renaissance Art' & Dustin Rice's 'Modern Art'."
He asks "Did Rodin do anything else beside sculptures?"
I reply "He drew watercolors on "Cambodian Dancers".

"Good for you!" he smiles, as if throwing me a bone
as brownie points after my poor debate performance.
His lady friend says "We enjoyed your poetry,
perhaps you'll come to his lecture on Matisse—

Oh, let me introduce him— Professor Albert Elsen."
I nearly fainted— the world's greatest scholar
on Rodin— no wonder he knew so much
when I thought he was just a janitor.

I went to the Art History Department
and picked up flyers on Elsen's lecture
"Matisse: His Importance to Modern Art"
at 5:30 pm, September 15, 1992.

Felt I could do better— designed two flyers
with Matisse's Polynesia, the Sea (1946)
and France stamp of Matisse's Blue Nudes
swirling in a kaleidoscopic spiral.

Sent them to Elsen along with a brochure
of CPITS—teaching kids to write poetry.
His handwritten September 11th letter
is such a heart-warming treasure.

Elsen like Jameel Din's poem in the CPITS
brochure, saying "I wish I had been exposed to
your program as a child. No question it would
have made me a better writer, if not a poet."

Connie came to Elsen's "Matisse" lecture
at the packed Anneberg Auditorium, saying
"With suit and tie, he looks like a professor
and not a janitor." I took 18 pages

of notes with sketches of 120 slides—
Picasso & Matisse were the greatest in 20th century—
"Betweeen 1907 and 1912, they changed art more
drastically than the previous five centuries."

After his talk, I brought Elsen's first book
Auguste Rodin: Readings on His Life & Work
for him to sign. This $2.95 paperback bought
at Book Sales Gallery in Ithaca (9-21-1969)

was marked down to 89¢ since 1/3 of the
back cover & last page was torn off. I bargained
it down to 50¢. Elsen signed "For Peter
from an admirer of his poetry— Al Elsen."

              Peter Y. Chou
              Mountain View, 1-1-2020