Preservation: What We Keep
“This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”- Maggie Smith
My parents are in the process of moving into an assisted-living residence, down-sizing from a home of fifty years, a home with “good bones.” My mother, always the hostess, is insisting on packing and bringing her ten-piece place setting, even though she won’t have a kitchen. Admittedly, I was annoyed at first, but realized that her need for keeping them was not to host a dinner party but to hold on to memories of loved ones gathering around her table.
The term “good bones” is most commonly used in reference to a building with a strong foundation. Maggie Smith extends this metaphor to address the world. It’s a world that can be difficult to live in but one the speaker, a mother, in “Good Bones” believes, albeit questioningly, that despite what it may look like on the surface, can be made beautiful because it is decent at its core. This belief is worth preserving. And could be essential to our survival as Julian Randall’s “Chicago” alludes to. After the confession, “I can only sleep on buses/in shoes I can run away in,” the speaker describes passing by a “road so green/it might convince you/the world is not dying.”
We know the world is not dying when we can taste the “out-of-reach pulp” in Steven Riel’s “Blackberrying.” The lushness of the soft ”u” sounds abound in this poem, begging the reader to quench the thirst of desire, get “drunk” on all that is delicious. Keeping such “plump clusters” of blackberries becomes a must.
And we know the world is not dying when we read of ‘bumblebees guzzling dry/the white blossoms” of spring as David Miller witnesses and writes of in “An Empty Cup, A Flight of Uncarpeted Stairs.” This poem keeps a burgeoning joy as it balances upon the still point of beauty’s “fulcrum moment” relishing in that motionless hovering, that quietude of being neither this or that, here or there, before becoming “frantic for shade.”
For all that is gorgeous about the natural world, what does it mean when we preserve its death? The bee in Martha McCollough’s “Natural History” is a “lone glass bee/thirsty among so many flowers” and the “frayed fawn curled in its case…in its pale twist of grass” showcases our fascination with the dead. Taxidermied animals in a museum, even sorry-looking ones, educate us of a world full of wonder. What we keep reminds us of what we are.
If I had to choose one thing to keep for our world it would be the kindness that Bruce Hawkins speaks of, “kept/ in its cast iron cage” that which “warms the small house, allows/me to undress…”
Akhil Katyal, a poet based in Delhi, reminds us however not to discard grief, because the world is as sad as it is beautiful, because “there will be nights/when you will see even steel/ dissolve under your touch.” “The Father Speaking Through My Son” by Taylor Mali considers this “magic” of grief. Though a loved one may be gone, it’s possible we can hear them.
What greater preservation is there than self-preservation? Camille-Yvette Welsch describes the traumatic days after giving birth, of feeling “blown apart” and the process of mending, putting pieces back together as if a sculpture, using ‘clay to seal the cracks.” Venus of Willendorf and Semele appear as the speaker “recreates” herself, “this time as mother, watcher.” Though more “fragile than before” with an “echo and omega” of a pitched cry, she marvels at the “holding seam.”
“How does your mother remember her birth?” asks Carolee Bennett’s “Hold On.” Its title urges us to keep our footing in this ‘slippery” world, to picture “tentacles” instead of “ventricles”, to hear the words “prayers” and “mileage” as we travel the winding roads complete with missed garbage pick-ups and raised cable rates. “The situation is fluid” says the chief investigator. Keep our mind’s eye says this poem, so we may “pray to the imagined octopus for a moment of grace.”
What we keep is more than objects in a magpie’s nest. We keep sadness and hope, fear and love, and as Bennett poignantly writes, “All I need to know about anything is how it feels/when I hold it. And the word for that is tend.”