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found poem: The house


found poem © j.i. kleinberg

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found poem: the house


found poem © j.i. kleinberg

found poem: Light

found poem: We love

found poem: the idea

found poem: the house

found poem: the blue

found poem: houses

found poem: sneak

found poem: howling

found poem: I am

A FOUND…

THE YAWNING…

SWAYING…

fervent…

Lustrous…

headline memories…

Elsie before she was my grandmotherThe news crackles with stories of fire, pushes on memories that are still tender after all these decades: the Bel Air fire.

Here’s what I remember: A line of flame contoured the ridge top, which was perhaps a mile and a half away. I looked out the kitchen window again and again, sat on the front step watching the smoke billow up from the north and west. The sun was a red ball in the sky. My father met with the neighbors and established an overnight watch.

The next day, there were whispers among my junior high classmates. Parents arrived, anxious, milled in the hall, grabbed their kids and drove away without explanation.

School closed early and we were all sent home. On the carpool ride, the car was filled with a kind of muffled confusion. I got home at the same time as my father, who had left work early. My mother wasn’t there; she had taken her mother, my beloved (and only) grandmother, Elsie, to the hospital for gall bladder surgery.

The house was in disarray, things missing. We had been robbed. No, not robbed, we finally realized — what thief would take the hamster, the little bronzed ducks I had made from clay as a child? Dorothy, frantic about her mother, about the fire, had rifled the house for the irreplaceable — my father’s birth certificate, a favorite painting, little Sam in his wire cage — put everything in her car and driven off without leaving a note.

We were lucky. The fire never got much closer. But friends weren’t, their homes consumed while they were in school, at work, in Mexico. Coming home to singed ground, chimneys stark as gravestones, their lives changed instantly, profoundly.

Elsie never came out of the hospital. The confusion and impossibility of her death are forever entwined with the chaos and grief surrounding the fire, and, in the unsteady echo and ooze of memory, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, almost exactly two years later.

what was left…

RoyliesThree years after my father died, my mother, at 88, told me one day that she was feeling ‘isolated’ in the house and was ready to move. I still count that day as a blessing — not having to move her against her will — and we hastened to find her an aerie, as she wished, near the beach.

From her accumulated “stuff” and her 50 years in the house, we chose the few things that would go with her to furnish the remaining years of her life, though she seemed content to think of it as packing for an adventure, a vacation (she referred to her assisted living residence as “this hotel”).

That she was willing to depart with so little, or part with so much, was surprising to me; Dorothy had cared obsessively for her possessions and spoken with regret and longing of the things her mother had given away, the things she didn’t have but might have added to her collection if her own mother hadn’t been so cavalier.

What was left, and there was a lot, was my problem now. I felt some urgency to be done with it and my grandmother’s cavalier spirit inhabited me as I flung things into piles — Giveaway, Sell, Keep.

Once the house was stripped of Giveaway and Keep, I set out everything else and invited family, friends and neighbors for a private two-day sale. This was a hard decision, as my father had philosophically refused to sell his sculpture (giving it away at every opportunity) and I was reluctant to betray his belief.

Nothing was priced. The rules were: select what you want, decide what you want to pay and choose your payee. Checks could be made payable to TreePeople (my father’s long-time volunteer pursuit), Santa Monica College Emeritus program (where my mother had taken many classes) or directly to Dorothy. My friend Jane was the cashier; I wouldn’t discuss money with anyone.

Dorothy sat smiling in her chair in the midst of the chaos, thrilled by the attention and unfazed by the departure of her treasures. The people came and the stuff left by the armload, the carload and, at the end, the truckload, when the neighbor’s television scene-building crew relieved me of things I thought I’d never be able to unload.

In retrospect, I might have made my own choices (the Keep pile) more judiciously, especially with regard to my father’s sculpture; there are some pieces I miss and would like to have around. But what was left was more than enough; I have artwork and books and dishes and photographs and plenty of other things to remember them by.

The few things that remained after the sale found their way onto my shelves. It took me ten years to use up Dorothy’s hoard of wax paper. And when I make cookies, I take out my mother’s “Roylies,” carefully separate one from the pile, set it on the plate and feel an uprush of the 1950s, when a paper doily was a delightful invention that could save a busy housewife the labor of laundering the real handmade lace that languished in the cabinet piled neatly among sheaves of yellowing tissue paper.

Have a cookie.

house…

eucalyptus seedpodsThere was one house on our block that was perpetually broken. Something had probably been done wrong in the construction, but the house looked normal and so one family after another moved in and undertook major repairs until they couldn’t stand it any longer and moved out.

The house, at one point, began to slip down the hill, foundation and all. Or the basement flooded. Or the driveway split. The small brick wall that contained the front yard one day left its job and fell over onto the sidewalk. Equipment would arrive, holes would appear — in the lawn or the roof or the foundation — and hammering was a constant. Hoses sprang from the house’s orifices and draped across the yard into the street to drain its watery innards.

But life went on, various families of three or four children tossing their bicycles and roller skates and skateboards and surfboards into the open garage where there was never enough space for a car. The eucalyptus trees grew tall and dropped their leaves and seedpods and messy flakes of bark around the back door. Dogs came and went.

Maybe the house should have been torn down, excised like a bad tooth. But it was attractive and comfortable, except for its aches and pains, and it always seemed that the next little repair would fix it once and for all.

I’ve known cars like that. And people.

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eucalyptus photo by Barbara Aldiss on flickr

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