16 April 2008

"what turns up with the dust"

it's spring. i think, today, we can officially call it "spring."

now, all of you go knock furiously on wood before i get caught saying this and we get sent another batch of rain, another heaping serving of snow, another pile of gray days.

and, whenever spring rolls around, i notice that there are several rooms in my house that need that heavy-duty kind of cleaning. and there are only five rooms in my house, and so you can envision what "several" means. the problem with cleaning (okay, with me doing the cleaning) is that i tend to get distracted.

i was just talking to my folks about this habit of mine on the phone the other day -- when i was small, i was often sent to "clean my room" on a saturday. i hated cleaning, for one, but what usually happened is that it took hours. from 9:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. from 8:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. because i liked the museum of my room. i liked curating it, giving myself a tour through it, retelling the stories of these objects i found under the bed, in the drawers. i found books that needed to be read. . . again. i found stuffed animals that needed arms and legs bandaged with toilet paper and scotch tape. i found socks that needed to be tried on, hand-me-down skirts from my sister that needed to be twirled in. i found music in the cassette deck that was begging me to be the star of my own (two hour) show.

at 5:00, my mother would come in and say, "is it clean?" i would say, "yes." she would say, "really? because those legos belong in front of your closet? those books belong under the bed?" if i was feeling sassy, i would say yes. but i would have to clean more. if i was feeling penitent, i would say no. and i would have to clean more.

so you can see how much i'm looking forward to cleaning up my rooms. because that same wandering, distracted, reminiscing kind of cleaning is already happening. today, i pulled a poetry book off the shelf and found, in the back, a poem that one of my boyfriends had once written. he was a physics teacher; we had made a bargain. i'd try to teach him how i looked at poems; he'd try to teach me physics. i got as far as being able to pronounce "mobius" correctly, and he got as far as reading over the comments i'd written all over his poem. we didn't work out, really. no, say it straight, sally: we didn't work out. and so, it's likely i should just dismiss this poem as some kind of sentimental nonsense that i cling to for no reason anyone can discern.

but i can't throw this poem out. not for any reasons you'd expect; there's only one line about us, after all, out of fifty. there isn't any beautiful memory or pretty card or dead rose to go along with it.

i have to keep it because we worked so hard, respectively and together, on this poem. (read: obvious metaphor for relationship as a whole). i had written an encyclopedia of comments on this poem. he worked on line breaks, for heaven's sake -- and he worked on them harder than i worked on reading a brief history of time. but we both worked hard to make that thing between us work.

and, even though it's spring, and it's time for renewal, and it's time for throwing out and starting over, i have to keep it to remember what difficult winters i've already been through. while spring cleaning feels like a fresh start, i like to remember, with a bit of distance, how cold and icy and mean some of those winters were (and there were good moments in the snow, sure. there were some). and i need to remember what i learned from this physics teacher i once loved. and then i need to move it to a new place, and figure out how to live with my lessons there.

and this poem, more succinctly, i think, than i ever could, does a beautiful job describing how difficult it is to move to a new place, to keep some kind of relationship in a new context, to start over, to pay homage to the past but not live solely there, to trust the new. to clean not as i do, perhaps, which can't really be called "cleaning" at all, but can only be called "moving old brooms around new rooms" -- without fully cleaning and without fully mourning what's been thrown out. or maybe the poet is, in some way, recommending that we hack the past all to pieces and find out what remains when we've tried to rid ourselves of everything -- and maybe what's most important will remain intact. or maybe you'll have an entirely different read on it. either way, i think you'll like it.

The New Place

~ Julia Kasdorf

We can't admit that we can't make love
in our old bed positioned like this.
You no longer cook, and I seem to know

only three recipes. The towel racks
on the floor hoard lint, and like drunks
who can't see past a need to stay numb

we sit in our rooms unable to work.
You spend long days in the city and return
to me, talking, but silence always

catches up. You think the place is possessed,
and I blame the broom we moved despite
that superstition about dragging old

dirt into new rooms. I can't even pitch
scorched pot holders or properly mourn
those turquoise walls, dull with eight years

of our own grease and happiness. Maybe we grew
so fond of the known that we can't arrange
ourselves here, and we'll just have to chuck

something out with the oversized bookcase
and table, or else take a saw to it all
and see what turns up with the dust.

(published in Eve's Striptease by Julia Kasdorf. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...