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Tag Archives: notes

found poem: some speak


This is JakeI never knew my mother’s father, Jake, who died more than a dozen years before I was born, but among the things my mother kept was a small notebook of his. It’s soft leather, pigskin, perhaps, and much worn with handling. Embossed on the front are the words COMPLIMENTS OF BRODY & FUNT* and a New York address. Calendars for 1907 and 1908 line the front and back covers and printed pages include a compendium of essential information, such as USDA Weather Bureau Explanation of Flag Signals; the National Bankruptcy Law; Facts about Panama; Height and Weight of Men; New York Hotels; and much more.

Jake sold insurance, and tucked inside the notebook is a cellophane cigar sleeve imprinted with his name and New York Life Ins. Co. There’s also a long (14 column Jake's notebookinches!) newspaper article from the Milwaukee Journal, “Journal Carrier Upholds His Rights,” that recounts the trials and triumph of young “Jakey,” whose newspaper delivery route put him crossways with a local citizen. I imagine him bringing out the ten-year-old much-refolded article to regale customers and anyone else he might encounter on the road.

The blue-graph-paper pages of the notebook are covered with my grandfather’s untidy writing, the contents as eclectic as the book’s printed pages. Some are reminders, scrawled and crossed out, “Ma G birthday Oct 2,” (his mother-in-law, my great-grandmother). Many pages are covered with columns of names and numbers — perhaps a record of installments paid or owed by his customers.

But the pages that interest me most are collections of cryptic notations — “Barber, where do you get shaved” — “Keep off Michigan Ave. (rubber ball)” — a firm line dividing each note from the next. Whether these are observations, punch lines, song lyrics or random firings of Jake’s magpie mind, I can’t know.

Maybe, if I keep studying it, this little book will teach me something about my mother. Or maybe a few of these unmelodic lines will find their way into poems: collaborations with the laughing man I never knew.
. . . . .
*Brody & Funt, as the first interior page explains in eight lines of text and a half-dozen different typestyles, were “Makers of well made popular priced Ladies’ and Misses’ Cloaks, Suits, and Tailor Made Wash Suits, separate coats and skirts.”

from a word…


torn from a letter
A while back I wrote about my mother’s recipe box. Among its treasures was this scrap torn from a letter, preserved because of the recipe on the back for a “new desert — a whole peach peeled & the center filled with chopped dates & nuts & put to resemble pit of peach & then whole thing rolled in fresh coconut & put on a plate. Looks like a snowball! Very simple — Everyone here asks for you & sends… ious to get home to see th… which….”

What’s more intriguing to me is this side, the message incomplete but its attitude clear: “…wasting time. Enclosing a clipping might…you. Life is surely boring in a small town tho — I could never be satisfied with it.” A new desert indeed.

The handwriting may or may not be my grandmother’s — it resembles hers, her sister’s and my mother’s. There’s a hint of gossip here — the clipping about something or someone known to both the sender and the recipient, the suggested disapproval of someone’s move to a small town (the subject of the clipping? the recipient?).

I’m curious about the clipping, which did not survive, and puzzle over these scraps — these women who shared recipes and gossip, who wrote letters on paper to knit together their separate worlds. There’s privilege here: the privilege of dessert, of fresh peaches and coconut, of letters written on heavy paper, of boredom and discontent. Maybe I’ll meet them again in a story or poem.

For now, I’ll take the peaches.

the right spot…

Don't forgetIn the back of the recipe box I find this plaintive reminder to my mother in my youthful script. Clearly, there had been an incident of forgetting, or waiting in the wrong spot. Though I’m not surprised it happened, I don’t remember it — not standing forlorn or impatient in front of the school or biding my time outside Bullock’s or the movie theater or the orthodontist’s office.

The note would have been left on the end of the kitchen table, which was on the ingress-egress route and our most reliable communication center. Notes, reminders, birthday cards, mail and lost things that had been found all stopped there, at least briefly. There was also a small magnetic board on the back of the kitchen door, where my parents sometimes left notes for each other — a place I remember looking, carefully lifting and examining the slips of paper, to try to understand the mysteries of adulthood. But that board became cluttered, and the aprons that hung on the hook at the end of the cabinet would knock the magnets and papers off the board, so the table became the default note zone. Instructions to baby sitters, report cards and prescriptions would alight, rest and flutter away.

Written in some earnest belief that I could instruct my mother in how to be better at her job of taking care of me, this note ultimately found a greater purpose: the recipe for Carrot Ring that she scrawled in pencil on the other side.

the note…

noteShe stared at the two penciled words stretching across the piece of paper, the handwriting not refined but each letter fully formed, solidly connected to the next. “You’re beautiful,” it said, a wide-eyed smiley face the only punctuation. The two words floated, independent, the first centered and straight, the second angled broadly across the middle of the paper as if to underline its meaning, though there was no line.

They were written on the flap of a banking deposit envelope, torn off at the perforations. She recognized the handwriting, though it was writing she seldom saw. She knew who had written it; she only could not remember when or where he had left it for her. She tried to picture it: lying on his pillow, propped in front of the phone, stuck in the refrigerator along side the half-and-half — all of those find-it-in-the-morning places. But none of the images looked familiar and she couldn’t be certain. She only knew it was from another era of her life, perhaps a quarter-century ago. No, she corrected, just 25 years — that was long enough; one need not mention centuries.

She had found it tucked into the pages of a journal, the writing on the pages revealing nothing. Just this note, this reminder, which cheered her a bit, to think, to remember, to imagine that someone had found her beautiful, one time, and she pinned it to her bulletin board, smiling back at the silly little round-eyed face.


DAK note - I'm wondering...As my mother’s vision and other faculties diminished, she continued to draw and, occasionally, to write. Yesterday I opened an art book and found, tucked inside, this note scrawled on a bit of scratch paper. It says, “I’m wondering if memory is something you remember or something you forget.”

Holding the note in my hand, I felt — I feel — a clutch of grief and compassion. She struggled so. Failed and succeeded, like all of us, in so many ways. And even near the end, when complete sentences were beyond her capability, she maintained a spark of humor, curiosity and wonder.

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