Kaleidoscope

Odd, to see the queen of hearts
float by the foot of the cellar stairs as water rose
and my first thought was to wonder

about the other 51, the sodden box
for a deck nowhere in sight
until three days later when the basement dried

to a kaleidoscope of flinty brown, enmeshed
with threads of every color, like old linoleum
flooring or countertop from Fifties kitchens.

Tucked behind the wash machine,
a remnant of muslin in gray stripes
(I took at first to be the cat)

kept in case I’d make a curtain for the upstairs bath,
and next to that a rock marked 10 cents in penciled
script, unsold at a rummage sale

fifteen years ago, last time I tried to
figure what to save, what to let go
from this dank, encumbered cavern.

My father’s LPs are damp, the faces
of his heroes undulate, but even flat black,
fat vinyl may dry so I might play his music,

popular before I was born. A conch shell
on its back, still lovely with its shiny pink insides;
no wonder my brother begged it off the ancient

babysitter the week of Mom’s
bad gall bladder. Wooden spools because
they aren’t made anymore and will be admired

or wondered after some day like the yellow child-sized
roadster we got for Christmas the last year Daddy
was alive.  And a doll carriage, metal roller skates,

a wooden pot holder frame, complete with woven
creation now soaked and tossed on a pair of
sodden figurines, a Chinese man and woman,

maybe plaster after all from Aunt Maxine’s mantle,
hoarded from her mother’s cache of oriental kitsch,
once thought glamorous as the old green bottles

my brother excavated from farms and fields, himself
looking for something to hold onto other than panic,
pills, and booze.  Then his tattered letter jacket;

a photo of Grandfather that Mother couldn’t save
but couldn’t throw away, his complexion somewhat
pocked and amber from spores of mold

now clinging like musk for her, she who places
faith in objects. Time to throw out Mother’s
high school yearbooks, Father’s tux and ties,

Uncle Fred’s “jap pants” from the war;
first letter of acceptance, first paycheck from
first job after college.  Hoist the tattered backpack

on the pile with heavy leather boots and maps
of Oregon, Canada, Denali, when hiking was
an option, when partners came and went, confused

with lovers confused by this strange woman
who would save all they gave (maybe a month—
a song, a book of Bukowski poems),

which wouldn’t fit inside this child-sized
jewelry box of silver coins, plastic rosaries,
tiny portraits of the saints, and baby teeth.

Published in Seems, the journal of Lakeland College