What Clutter Does

image184I had a very cool experience yesterday evening, reading poems with Holly Hughes and a few of her poetry students — including my friend Shana — at Edmonds Community College. Also eating chocolate cake. One of the many things we talked about was publication.

I’m tired of sending this poem out and having it rejected. I think it’s pretty good. And now my poetry file feels a little less cluttered.

The picture is of me and my sibs (not necessarily the children in the poem) after our church Christmas play (notice the tree in the background). I was a nurse. Not sure what Kathy was supposed to be.


Clutter must be a metaphor, not for things kept,
an idea you love, but for the lack of order
you’ve lived with all your life, things unkept,
like the pickle jars full of marbles that, for a dollar,
you never could guess the number of,
all the raffles entered and all the marbles lost
through knotholes and behind porch steps,
all the spelling bees you had to drop from
in the second round, not because you couldn’t spell
but because you couldn’t concentrate
(the clutter of so much noise). Clutter could stand
for Sunday School prizes for “most visitors brought”
when you couldn’t bring any, your parents’
Buick stationwagon with the flip-up jumpseat
already full of people related to you, as if that
was fair, your messy sisters scrubbing down
the crayons to dull thumbs. In your heart
of hearts there’s a shelf with nothing on it,
a cleared space where you sit prim as a knick knack
(that dusty, that quiet), whenever and wherever
the busy world is too much for you, moves
too fast and dishes out one too many details.
When emptiness is all the clutter you can stand.

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