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Tag Archives: rules

found poem: Hard work

found poem: the rules

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found poem: thumb in the eye

found poem: Once

found poem: rules

found poem: IT WAS

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DAK Hotel Sacher, Vienna 1969It’s a small thing, to knock on a closed door, but in our house it was a rule. A closed door meant Privacy. It meant knock, listen, wait. In our neighbors’ houses, I was amazed that doors seemed mere tissues in the air, without substance or meaning, things to swing aside without thought. Constrained by the constant nibble of small rules, always the good girl, I was envious of this reckless, feral behavior, this bound-less privilege.

But for my mother, who had few boundaries, this was a critical mark of civility, something that separated us from the shouters, the art-less, the bargers-through-doors. It was important, this evidence of etiquette. And she wasn’t wrong; honoring a closed door seems reasonable and polite.

But what she was trying to keep out — the foul air of an untold hurt, pain, fear, loneliness — had no respect for doors or rules. It invaded, inopportune, and smeared itself on everything.

. . . . .
photo: Dorothy gazes out, Hotel Sacher, Vienna, 1969

living with Dorothy…

Dorothy's toasterMy mother held so many small reins on chaos. The kitchen, which was always immaculate, must have seemed about to explode into anarchy; nearly every shelf and door and drawer had rules.

At the sink, there were special sponges and cloths and brushes for specific tasks. Knives, of course, had their own jobs, and also their assigned spot on the magnetic knife-holder that hung above the counter. The hand towel was for hands, never for dishes, and the dish towel was not for pots and pans or, heaven forbid, for hands. There was a cabinet of untouchable dishes, beautiful plates and cups that had graced my grandmother’s table, off-limits to all but gazing, but even in the cupboard that held ‘our’ dishes, there were some that were okay to set onto the table and others that, for reasons only Dorothy knew, were not.

The open package of paper napkins that was kept on top of the refrigerator was different from the open package of napkins in the pantry cupboard. There was a certain time we opened the curtains on the kitchen window, but not the same time as we cranked open, to a certain angle, the blinds over the pantry window.

The toaster was wiped off and its crumb-tray emptied after every use. The stove was a universe unto itself, spotless inside and out, the chrome showroom-brilliant right up to the day, 40-some years later, Dorothy moved out of the house.

There were other rules, and they populated other rooms as well, infractions met with sharp words, slaps and the not-always-unwelcome banishing from her presence.

There are good reasons for keeping things tidy and clean, but Dorothy wouldn’t explain what they were. More confusing, she criticized and accused me of being excessively neat, telling me that practically from the time I started walking I put things away and kept my room organized.

I fight the urge. Welcome a little chaos. But damn if that toaster isn’t still working.

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