—Lynn M. Hansen, Modesto
You sit with clutter all around,
will you ever collect enough?
Will things pile up until you drown?
You sit with clutter all around.
Chaos handcuffs you, drags you down.
As magnet you attract the stuff.
You sit with clutter all around
will you ever collect enough?
—Patricia Wellingham-Jones, Tehama
One hundred public nuisance calls
are received every year, people complain
about junk-filled eyesores
and potential health hazards.
Last night the county supervisors
tried to address this problem
with a new regulation changing response
from criminal citations
to civil penalties, with powers.
Six residents rose up to ask
if they’d lose due process rights,
some didn’t think county staff
should be allowed to call their treasures junk.
They were assured of the right to appeal.
One woman described the stench
from the hoarder’s place in front of her house,
said in a wistful tone she’d sure like to enjoy
her backyard, open her windows,
but she can’t.
Months of warnings had no effect,
the piles of rotting goods grew higher,
finally the county spent 4000 tax dollars
swamping out garbage, tires, electronics,
broken furniture and scrap metal
from just that one property in town.
Most of us want a solution
to protect our homes, our lands, ourselves
from the real possibility
of someone handling the problem
with a torch.
THE BOX IN THE CLOSET
The old wooden ammo box
lurks in the corner of the back closet,
hidden by torn drapes, a moth-eaten blanket,
twenty years of grime.
The woman halts in her frenzy
of down-sizing, getting ready to move.
Tries to remember who put the box there,
what it contains. Shrugging, she applies
the claw of her hammer to rusted lock and hinge,
coughs when the box squeals open.
The American flag in its original folds
covers a tray of medals from World War II,
rugged white cotton trousers
with a buttoned flap in front,
a dress uniform in dark scratchy wool
and a shoebox of photos.
She digs deeper, finds mementos
of people and places she’s never seen.
Feels a pang under her ribs
at the life she never knew,
her man never mentioned.
She wonders for the first time
who will want this story.
A cardboard box, flaps tattered with age,
dust-covered and forgotten
in the back of an upstairs closet,
that box, stumbled upon
in the re-storing of Christmas cheer,
formed the focus of her day.
The first items were easy discards:
report cards and school pictures
of a child long buried, as were his parents,
dog-eared faded images of unknown
people and places, no IDs on back,
a yearbook from a time and town
no longer remembered, not on a map.
Then she got to the hard stuff,
papers saved by her husband
dead these many years
and photos of his early life and work
she’d never seen, he’d never mentioned,
plus more he’d dragged out
in their early years then tucked away.
She spent the rainy winter afternoon
with a pot of tea, a lapful of history,
sorted out a few legal papers
that might be needed someday.
Questions circling her brain she phoned
a friend whose good sense she cherished,
used her as the sounding board
they so often accessed in each other.
With her own demise and clean-up in mind
and the knowledge of no close kin,
she kept her memories of that good man,
recycled what paper she could,
shredded some, tossed the rest.
After the day’s wallow in her lost love’s past
she let him go again, set the box aside
for her next bout of down-sizing.
In the back of the drawer
behind scarves never worn
and a pair of shorts for a different body
I find the pressed flat but limp
white cotton nurse’s cap I wore in the 50s.
I remember the pride when I earned it,
first wore that symbol of my competence
and the way my classmates and I
took the basic form, shaped it to our needs.
The front was a broad white band,
the back seven matched ruffles
standing for virtues I no longer recall.
The middle puffed like a soufflé
caught between borders.
Mine was to standard, moderate in all ways,
worn square on the top of my head.
Beth’s had wide flaring wings, a ship in sail.
Judy’s was full and round, worn at a slight rakish tilt
and Karen’s was pulled taut and narrow,
as pursed as her lips.
The other girls wore variations of the theme.
How young we were,
staffing the huge hospital,
saving the world.
INTO THE UNKNOWN THEY
and brank in humpy
damp swampwater swales and brackish.
The day was brisk, unsettled, a season away from
nectar but with a rind of sun.
He twitched and puttered
with his gear,
how to spread out lunch,
to make a home of reeds and brown
satiny mud. He fidgeted with laws of physics
and the chase, she dandled in root-
weavings. Neither of
them had a
she tamed a
She threw out the numbers with the
sandwich crumbs. Birds pecked fibonaccis and flew away
on wings. He said it was the best
hunting trip, she said
the best pic-
—A Fibonacci-ish poem by Taylor Graham, Placerville
She found his wallet
in the back of a drawer
four years after he died.
Lifted it to her nose,
smelled in the worn leather
their years together.