Leah Umansky is the author of the Mad-Men inspired chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press 2014) and Domestic Uncertainties (Blazevox 2013). She curates the COUPLET Reading Series and has been published in such places as POETRY, Poetry Review, and The Brooklyn Rail. Today, in honor of National Poetry Month, she writes about and shares one of her poems from Don Dreams and I Dream.
In the first season of “Mad Men,” we’re introduced to Rachel Menken, head of a popular Jewish department store named Menken’s in Manhattan, and one of my favorite characters of the past six seasons.
Sterling Cooper, the firm, is trying to land Menken’s as a client, and Don and Rachel find themselves in love. I was drawn to Rachel, the Jewess, being Jewish myself, but I was also drawn to Don and the way Don sees her: exotic, othered and alluring.
Don and Rachel get each other. Their affair is sweet and near-innocent. They discover one another based on their instincts and their passions. Their love is fierce and he’s intrigued by her because she’s a strong woman.
She’s a hustler.
They are good for one another, but Don is married and surely, Rachel’s father would want her to find a nice Jewish man. But Don is drawn to Rachel.
Could it be the fact that both of their mother’s died in childbirth?
Maybe. Both are looking to fully belong to someone.
In Rachel, Don sees an equal and someone who understands him. They have both been on the outskirts. She’s a Jew, forget about being a female Jew, and therefore she’s an outsider in the big, bad, manly world of Sterling Cooper. But Don, Don’s a wealthy ad man, with the heart of a small, poverty-stricken, country boy. I want Rachel to runaway with Don, but she doesn’t need him. And in turning him down, we not only see another strong female character on “Mad Men,” but a strong female Jewess.
Draper and the Jewess
You’ll like this poem, because you should. Because we all fight for the underdog. It has a nice ring to it, jewess. Draper invents their dichotomy, but I, I imagine their kiss is sweet, like an apple halved. Fresh, yet sour, and of course, verdant. Very verdant.
[which is close to virgin].
She reminds him of ofofof something pure, and of value and charm. An antique. A throw-back to a day of glory and grain, a day of the humble and pain. She is something unseeming, or appears to be so, until he lays his paws on her. She wants to love him, but he grows clingy and pale, recoiling from what she is: jewess. Her kiss is both a mother and a smother. Her wild heathenness beckons and stirs, beckons and purrs, and then, look what the cat drags in:
In her, he sees nostalgia. He sees what is sundogged, dawned and near-death. He sees pennies and scrapes and his scraping-by but also sees clarity and calm. In him, she sees his goishe Americanways. They are Napoleonic, bionic, and myopic. They could take over the world, but, she, she is a businesswoman. Her guards [and garters] rise to his touch. If he wants to invest, he will need to earn his shares just like everyone else. She is the Empress of Fifth Avenue. A rose, and he is a hornet.
[ Now, who’s the one with horns?]
He abandons his life. In her, he sees how the other side lives, but he forgets she is a proprietor. She knows what she values and manhood is golden. The Jewess does not get what she wants, but either does the Don. He’s got nothing. Zilch.
Read more about Leah Umansky and her work here.