On Finding a Box (1994?)
A dusty brown corrugated cardboard box,
stained and faded,
the kind your groceries come in.
Put on the shelf outside, in the shed behind the house,
a miracle it didn’t get rained on –
when the boys cleaned out their grandpa’s desk
after he died two years ago.
Now the box is there,
containing – if such a thing exists –
my father’s soul.
The odds and ends of a lifetime.
A hodgepodge of objects,
oddments one might say,
that somehow have survived in this consumer age of throwaways.
The box, I was saying –
I pull the objects out, one at a time.
A collection of rulers – plastic, wood,
centimeters, inches, centigrade, Fahrenheit,
grams and equivalents –
opaque with use and years, grimy, unpleasant to the touch.
What looks like a pocket calculator – Sears Roebuck.
Start, reset, pacer, pulse, time, and numbers 1 to 0.
On the back it says pulse monitor.
Does it still work?
The pulse it once monitored has long since ceased to beat,
has fused with the pulsing of all matter.
Pipettes, rectangular glass microscopic specimen slides.
Lenses, mirrors – circular, enlarging, concave,
for capturing, for focusing the intangible.
I finger an odd angular shape wrapped in a paper napkin.
It turns out to be a prism,
painted black all sides but two.
I hold it in my palm, look in and see
the wedding ring that’s hidden at the side –
some magic, sorcery it seems,
that lets me see what lies concealed.
Almost frightened, I quickly wrap it up again.
A batch of filing cards, held together
by what was once a red rubber band.
Fifty or even more.
Each card neatly typed with the scientific name,
the habitat, description of a tree.
Quercus rubra, quercus stellata, sorbus, thuya –
and a drawing of the leaves.
And half a dozen small plastic wind-up toys –
the monkey with his banana tries to somersault
and tumbles on his side,
the bear plays his cymbals –
and the shoes – just two shoes – blue and grey sneakers –
you wind them up and set them down
and they start walking by themselves,
one foot after the other.
I shudder. They have something unworldly,
I put them back, hoping they will stop.
Two parrot feathers – macaw – red and blue.
Two brown leaves – one is oak – so dry they crumble at the touch.
And underneath them all,
in the corner at the bottom,
two matchboxes of the kind that Alexander Beetle lived in –
remember A.A. Milne?
On one is written “Porcupine quills” – it’s neatly stuffed
with short sharp needles, all alike,
packed tight as they can go.
The other says “beetle wings”.
I slide the box out from its cover.
Inside the remains of iridescent green and golden beetle wings.
Science has nothing to do with this hoard.
They’re not classified, not labeled.
They’re here because they were so beautiful
but time has begun to break down this fragile shell
leaving only the memory of beauty.
How he loved things that glittered – like a jackdaw –
flashy ties, a golden cummerbund,
an enormous barbarian ruby – fake of course – set in a ring,
a dressing gown, mandarin style, floor length,
in gold brocade.
The box holds all the man – like a Harnett still life.
The objects tell you more than any portrait ever could
but no, not all.
Some always has to be guessed at, completed with what we know,
what we ourselves remember.
And if someday my children’s children
chanced across a box –
the emptying of my desk –
what would it tell them of this woman they
might have thought they knew.
But did they?
5 thoughts on “The Box”
Sent from my iPhone
Hi Erika. Thank you for this glimpse of Wolfe. Though I only met him briefly, after he returned from travels with your dear Mother in 1972 (during my visit). He reminded me a little of my own gruff, despotic father – always worried about his business. Willing to share his inner self with his son, but not with his daughters – an American man of his time.
When you opened the box of your father’s keepsakes, you shared his gentle core. I think my dad had some of those private objects, but mostly wrapped up in hard things, like guns and watches – and marbles.
Your tribute is so tender and thoughtful. Don’t worry, you have shared so much with Claudio and Lamberto and Costanza. They know your heart. Costanza especially knows you. Remember the nature based Easter egg decorating you blogged with her? I loved that one because it was so sweet and tender. An update on my disease:
My pathology came back clear. No cancer in the lymph’s nor any of the other organs. No radiation or chemo. I will visit Hopkins in 3 months for another CT scan, then yearly after that. I feel awful, but the surgeon says this will pass in another month or so.
Again, I am so grateful. Can’t help feeling that I don’t deserve this “good luck”. Not in the way those who savor every moment do. Gifted people like you Erika. Curiosity and talent that shine like gifts from your mother and from Wolfe too. I cherish our moments together all the more. They fill me up.
A Big Hug,
Sent from my iPhone
Erika, This may be your best poem…at least the best I’ve read of yours. It’s not a sentimental description of what you find in your father’s box. It’s methodical and objective. And, it reveals YOU as much as him.
YOU ARE A VERY TALENTED WRITER. Thank you. love, Linda
Erika Ah Wolf! The box brings back the man to me, the young man enthralled at age 19 of the “old” man of 70. The box reminds me of his Biology text—here still on one of my bookshelves. It’s a compendium of such oddities of nature. He was a man compelled to classify, thinking with a taxonomic eye, trying to make meaning of the universe through its parts, leaping blindly over the magical interstices of the quantum to draw conclusions regarding the tangible world. So certain that his vision was because keen—true.
The Box is one of your magical pieces Erika. Brava! And yes your box—all of ours— will tell tales!
Sent from my iPhone
I enjoyed this poem Erika. We are visiting family today so rather distracted – I plan to read it again later. Hope you are keeping well in the heat!