Queen's Quarterly

Queen's Quarterly
Queen's Quarterly

Sixties Secretaries

By Patricia Young


Quit, her friends said, get another job, you’re too smart

to be a secretary. What they didn’t know: the secretaries

of the free world were smarter than brain surgeons

by a typewriter ribbon mile. Could smoke and drive

a Chevy while scribbling hieroglyphs on crossed knees.

Not waitresses, not hatcheck girls. More like beekeepers

or feather merchants, more like knife throwers or sooth-

sayers. What her friends didn’t know: those secretaries

spun like radio dials, could see through walls, penetrate

the inner sanctums of the men whose letters they banged

out on eight sheets of carbon paper. Could bash the keys

faster than a jet plane. Anticipate desire. Transcribe the

ephemeral. Had a light touch, wore Peppermint Pink lipstick,

tucked their blouses into pencil slim skirts. On coffee breaks

flipped through Scientific American and Modern Bride.

Dumb secretaries, they said, not knowing those women

were savants of discretion, archetypal, synonymous with high

heels and sinewy architecture, had read all the Russian novels,

spoke three Latinate languages. Could multiply and divide long-

winded fractions inside their bobbly heads. White-out the sky.

This poem first appeared in Queen’s Quarterly 118/1 (Spring 2011).

Patricia Young’s most recent book, Amateurs at Love (2018), was published with Goose Lane Editions. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.