It’s a strange week in America. We’re all suspended in time, waiting for Election Day. So much has happened, but it’s as if someone’s thrown endless handfuls of malignant confetti into my life this past year. Impossible to keep track of it all. I don’t save things the way my parents’s generation did. Sometimes I want to, but where would I keep it all?
2015/My brothers and I are cleaning out my parent’s house./In the attic we find boxes of things my mom saved./One box for each child./In mine are baby shoes, a doll from a great-aunt in Scotland, drawings, a finger-painting,/ and my old report cards. I look at everything/and throw most of it out. I suppose some remote descendant/ might be interested in the fact that for my entire elementary school career/ not only was my handwriting sloppy and illegible/I also didn’t seem to care./Well, if they are, now they know.
I vaguely remember handwriting being an actual concern of mine when I was nine. I was afraid it might indicate a major character flaw. But to admit that I cared would only magnify the problem. Now, that all seems so far away. The past is dusty and still. I’m impatient when I think about it. None of it matters anymore.
When the Cabrini nuns took over in 1980/they threw out old papers and objects from St. Clare’s early days./I wonder what I would have discovered/if I’d been there to root through that dumpster./Letters to Mother Alice? Photographs of the Founding Sisters?/ But I was in East Harlem then, eating goat roti and drinking phosphorescent soda./Even if I’d known, why would I salvage/something I wasn’t going to care about for another thirty years?
I really would like to see those old files. Even though all the nuns who wrote them are dead, the patients long disappeared into graves and old-folks’ homes. There’s something solid about tracing the imprint of ink on the page. And the smell of paper, rustling for the first time in decades.
After the Chapel was disassembled, Angelo found /old newspapers stuck behind the walls./That’s where the past is able to survive./In between walls, or in a forgotten box in an unused room./Maybe the comics were there: Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy/Dots of ink, preserving the faint imprint/of Mother Alice’s eyes.
(Mother Alice founded St. Clare’s, and read the comics every night before bed.)