Things
Mementos, knickknacks, treasured junk, set pieces. 
Some call them soulless, yet I heard Robert Lowell admonish 
his child, a toddler stomping a book, “Oh no, dear, you mustn’t—
books are immortal souls.” Things we might say we “love,” 
flea market tables are piled with them—hand-painted trays,
chipped deco pottery; LIFE magazines saved in drawers
for their covers—they’re little museums themselves:
American photography of our troops at Normandy, 
dead soldiers, flotsam, washed ashore; the Dionne Quints
5 little girls in white dresses, caged in Quintland, their Ontario 
yard, for tourists and their cameras; LIFE, declaring without 
shame: THERE IS A CASE FOR INTERPLANETARY SAUCERS 
(Marilyn’s on that cover). Prowling the daytime drive-in’s aisles 
at the flea, in the summer sun, I go into a classic hunter’s crouch, 
walk on the balls of my  feet, my arms outstretched, 
my fingertips metal detectors for Sunday’s hidden coin. 
Dusty broken useless. My closets full of things, my shelves 
overflow with LPs, snapshots, Bakelite boxes that held 
monogrammed playing cards—someone else’s monogram—
or unfiltered cigarettes; my grandmother’s stereopticons, 
scenes of the vast Grand Canyon with tiny human figures 
for perspective; my grandfather’s tefillin in a blue velvet 
drawstring bag. Old piles of books, papers, drafts, 
catalogues, magazines—what’s a bedside floor for?—
notebooks, science articles torn jagged from the Times, 
and also book reviews, passionate or sardonic dicta
about what? by whom? Handle bags from long-closed bookstores, 
mugs with jokes or slogans holding inkless pens, wood rulers, 
random screws and nails. Grandfather’s pencil stub marked 
Aid to the Jewish Blind, his arthritic hand held it to dial the phone, 
its eraser petrified. Mother preached collecting was the only cure 
for depression—she couldn’t think it was a symptom, 
didn’t believe anyway in depression. Earmuffs, bell-bottoms, 
campaign buttons. Matchbooks from vanished restaurants, 
cool restaurants with ashtrays, with smokers. An embossed 
plumber’s card from Pasadena touts Miranda the Plumber—
You Don’t Have to Live with a Drip! A small bamboo rat carved 
so delicately it’s hard to imagine the tool, the carver’s hand;
2 blackened Senufo masks, displaced, implacable on the wall. 
Things, things—Uncle Harold’s tragedy of the Chinese revolution,
No Peace for Asia; the last biography of Harry S. Truman, 
and Harry Blackmun’s; the scathing pleasure of Philip Roth, 
of stirring unsentimental Willa Cather’s America; a battered 
Amphigorey; my childhood copy of Struwwelpeter, Johnny 
Head-in-Air who finally walked right off a pier and drowned., 
the point being it served him right, translated from the German. 
And all this all this poetry, my friends’, the challenging dead, 
unalphabetized life’s blood, positioned to be rediscovered. 
An inventory of them alone would take a thousand pages.
But who on this green earth would type it? And why? And when?
(“So many things in your poems,” one friend said to me, disdainfully,
I thought….) Your steel tool-case with molded grooves to fit 
each mystifying tool.  Drill bits, Philips heads, brushes, tubes
of color, drying… Art—the walls, the closets, the flat files—
humming its demanding song. Or not just demanding, generous. 
Secretly, in the dark companioning me. Things aren’t company, 
I know that, or ideas, or moral currencies, although they feel like
company when I hold them, I look at them, I know they’re here 
except in dreams, except in dreams. Loving them, touching them, 
keeping them, I’d like to think they love me back. Here are your 
shirts, and your hand-sharpened pencils—this blue-gray one 
impressed with a haiku by Basho, With dewdrops dripping/
I somehow wish I could wash/ this perishing world.
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