“It’s gonna take all my mountains of things
to surround me…” Tracey Chapman
Any house can have drawers that stick.
In ours, the bottoms fell out.
My mother bought more dressers.
My father built her more closets. They filled,
spilled over, split their wooden seams.
With what, you may ask? Expired coupons,
old shopping lists, bubble packs
of emery boards with one removed,
makeup, hand cream, chewing gum, mints,
obscure newspaper clippings. Like the dregs
of a handbag, but clogging the entire house.
The kitchen cupboards were crammed
with dead spices and old cans. I was made
to wipe them and keep them alphabetical,
tomato paste before tomato sauce. The fridge
was packed with cold slimy jars to wash
and put back, again and again and again.
In her forties it metastasized.
The dining table mounded high
with her piles of rubbish. My father’s side
of the double bed grew
the paper tumors, as he moved
to a folding couch in the basement.
They died in their fifties, six months apart.
I was living in France. I did not return
to clean her house, which must have looked
like a scene from “Hoarders.”
Now I think of a term from that show,
“a hoarded house,” and I imagine
dressers and closets hundreds of feet tall,
glutted with bulging houses, filling the sky
for people who nothing ever can satisfy.
In Greek, truth is alethea. A for not, Lethe for the river of forgetting.
True is not the opposite of false.
True is the opposite of forgotten.
This is my first memory, the first boulder
piercing the waters.
A clear roundness at eye level, and inside
a tiny waving flag of orange
with a head. Two frills on either side,
pumping like accordions. What lay behind?
What was the secret power? I had to know.
I scooped the creature out, into my hand.
It pumped a few times harder, and then stopped.
I am sorry now, poor fish. I had no time
to be sorry then, or even to understand
what had happened. I had no notion of dying.
But I had fear, as Mom arrived
with a bang and a roar, and a strange
accusation: Did you stab the fish
with a pencil? I didn’t know what “stab” was.
There was no pencil there.
But she seemed oddly satisfied, as though
I’d finally done the horrid thing
she had been waiting for.
I could not argue, for I had no words
for what I’d done, but felt
it must be something even worse.
Safer to give in to her story,
accept her punishment, comply.
Do you remember the Rotor, my dear?
The Rotor at Cedar Point?
Fifteen strangers in t-shirts and sneakers
paper-doll spaced around the perimeter
of that iron-grey Twilight Zone cylinder.
Then it began to spin.
The carny barking, obscure as a subway
announcement. Accordion music. And we,
stranded starfish, were flattened
like the accordion bellows, and pulled
to the wall’s greedy embrace.
And then the floor dropped.
We screamed, but had no choice but to trust
the walls for floor, the centripetal force,
gravitation gone sideways. For the length
of one carousel song, it was all we had.
Changes are spinning you now, my starfish. Your work life has fallen away. Take my hand; trust to the walls that we have, the cat-feeding, lawn-mowing round. Wait out the muffled words and the song. A floor will rise to your feet, I promise: untried, untrodden, your own.