MAINTAINING THE ARCHIVES

Sitting on the cold cement,
listening to old records
and reading musty letters,
wondering whether to return them.
How many times can we lose ourselves?
Measuring my life in tea chests,
ten years comes to the center
of the green heart,
for my sister who travels the world,
buying crystal, china, and nude prints,
traveling the Autobahn in an XKE,
I maintain the archives.She supports herself another summer
selling bikinis and clothes
she’s sick of seeing.
Mixing paint colors during reading class,
she blew up at the brain damaged kid
who called her name and had to cancel
the discussion in health
on controlling anger.

I burn candles and incense
trying to synchronize,
moving from the history
of the Delta blues
to the Moody Blues,
thinking is the best way to travel.
I think it is 1967,
there is time still
to get back,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives,
with yellow candles and purple
passion flower incense.

I always thought it was poetry
that made them hate me,
but it was my untimely puberty
that disturbed them so,
and that not as easily repressed
as a child’s vision,
a sprouting woman’s body.
All my life I have been punished
for biological facts.
All women know this song.

She writes from all over Europe,
“Dear Radio,”
on green and yellow paper,
dotted with dollar signs,
sending brochures of things to buy,
saying we really should come this summer
while we are young,
so many old people are hobbling around.
Writing for help in August,
the envelope is lined with purple,
I send it back to her today
to remind her of possibility,

People phone to inquire of the Saturdays
for the rest of my life,
they cannot smell the burning passion.
I am on a thirty day exemption
from the material world.
There are men who hate me
for not winding clocks,
I don’t believe in artists’ unions
or heroin.
Unfortunately, both of them exist.

From Germany she asks advice
from me as a rational person.
Ten years later I answer, saying
purple shoes help more than anything.
She sends congratulations on the baby,
I am barely pregnant.
It is the Christmas of silver
wine glasses from Spain,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

She is quitting smoking again.
The winters are cold and depressing,
an unlikely card arrives with pink flowers
and green insurance slips.
In Oslo she buys sweaters,
a photo postcard of David announces,
“I did it.”

She’s got everything she needs,
she’s an artist,
she don’t look back.
I polish my gypsy ring in honor of Zel,
who loved the dirty gypsies
and in honor of my sister,
who thought it was too gaudy.
I used to think we were gypsies together
in another incarnation,
there were so many memories
of frilly pink wagons.

In ’64 we crossed the desert in a ’56 Ford,
drinking transmission fluid and Pepsi Colas,
trying to look like slick men in the night.
Leaving the lights on to scare away
the cock a roaches in Tucumcari,
remembering,
hang down your head Tom Dooley.
The chest is full of fissures
and disconnections, fractured families
bundled in rotting rubber bands,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

I listen to “California.”
We came to Carmel in ’65,
carrying umbrellas in a blue Comet.
She was full of broken bones,
and a new knowledge of being destructible.
I was silent and overly tenacious,
it took me another decade to learn.

All the news from home
just gives you the blues,
“have you heard from Daddy,”
she writes from Japan,
for my sister who travels the world
I maintain the archives,
press the memories between the pages
of ’46 encyclopedias.

I wish I had a river
I would teach my feet to fly.
Carmel was dark, dark childhood green,
smoke rising into the crisp air,
every evening was moist and melancholy.
In ’65 Michigan school teachers moved
into artists’ garrets without refrigerators,
washing dishes from chicken back dinners
in the tub,
I was the only one who didn’t know
I hadn’t always been there,
for my sister who travels the world
I maintain the archives.

A stranger writes from St. Louis,
saying what a good peach season
it is this summer at the Cape.
My first summer there,
the season of Sloe gin fizzes,
she begged bread from strangers
just to test herself.
They took me in then moved
to a better part of town,
away from the dark cornered street
with red windowed apartments upstairs,
away from the smell of the river
and the sound of the trains,
to the other side of town,
where the trees died in winter.

As soon as I could I moved back
to the old street, farther down
at the edge of the cliffs,
just above the tracks,
where barge lights beamed
into the bedroom at night.
You could see anything coming
down the river,
as soon as it rounded the bend,
and speculate where it was going,
where it had been.
It was the summer of shared peanut
butter sandwiches and communal meals,
and roommates who sent away coupons
in order to get mail.
When the boat with sails came down that day,
we ran to meet it in disbelief,
bruising our feet on the sharp gray rocks.
Just back from Alaska,
we went with them as far as the A&P,
they went on to New Orleans,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

Is it youth that smells so fresh
or is it certain places,
where boat lights beam into dark corners?
Life has no odor.
When your flesh starts to rot,
you’re safe somewhere dark and warm,
when hearts and hopes start to rot,
people leave.
It is necessary to be alive enough
to avoid smelling unpleasant.

Today I move in the reverse of yesterday
in order to go forward,
breakfasting late with my daughter,
shopping until mid afternoon.
It is some kind of productivity.
I go out for Dr. Pepper and A&C Ninos,
topped off with two Pralines,
carefully choosing the ones
with pecans piled high on top.
I love the marriage of Anthony & Cleopatra
with the passion flower,
it is, after all, my own room.
I wear my broken pig skin shoes from France,
forget the bridal veil on my head,
until the shadow reminds me.
It is Wednesday,
the birthday of princesses,
I have abandoned my effort
toward order again,
in order to be myself,
trying to remember who I was
before the suburbs.

In July of 1970 she writes
to borrow money to pay the rent.
Her household goods arrive,
and she begins selling the things
it has been a commitment to collect.
She feels she has joined the family
of n’er do gooders and attributes it
to poor planning.
She writes of having nightmares
and looking for work,
for my sister who travels the world
I maintain the archives.

Leaving for Europe,
she asks if I want the sign,
“the hapless daughters
of the hapless sire.”
She writes from Monterey in ’73,
on thin paper from Bucharest,
saying Harvey has moved out,
and asks if I still have the sign.
When I first questioned whether
to keep it, it fell and broke.
The leather cord has rotted
and the glue has dissolved,
leaving it four, dissimilar pieces.

That summer in Carmel,
she was working with her hands
in cloth and clay, apologizing
for not being intellectual.
I was reading Greek tragedy,
the design was hers,
the words were borrowed.
I pack the pieces in the tea chest
smelling of jasmine,
leave only the corner upon the shelf
with the pocket sprouting
rust colored grass,
only this much is worth saving,
for my sister who travels the world
I maintain the archives.

It’s many a mile
I have been on this road
and like the blues man says,
“I have never left this spot,
but I have been all over the world.”
The blues singers all know this song,
some people can’t afford to travel
too far with their feet,
holding their head to be still,
being too still, holding their head,
looking down and back.
It’s all over now, baby,
the blues and the singers
and the other times too.
Everybody knows the you been
on my mind blues.

The highway is for gamblers,
for my sister who travels the world
looking for possibilities,
I sit in the cellar
and dust the shelves
of food nobody ever eats.
I never liked the desert,
I’ve always held a strange
fondness for basements.
People call from all over town for you,
you phone, surprise in your voice
when I say I am writing
and listening to old songs.
Should I have said I am singing,
should I have told you
of the two sticks of yellow wax,
the purple stems bending outward?
What should I have said to you
to make sense of my life?
For my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

In ’72 she writes from Pacific Grove,
she has moved into a house
where the Hell’s Angels lived
and is putting in a tub.
She wants to use my screen
and will come Thanksgiving,
if I can drive her back.
She does not like driving at night,
she is not a good driver.
I prefer flying at night,
it’s much faster.
She sends her letters on the back
of grocery lists in the envelope
from my wedding announcement.
She wants her Van Gogh peasants back.

The teapot I want is too expensive,
she brings home an iron one
from Japan which rusts.
Today I scorch my Tijuana teapot,
I did not like the black enamel trim,
I wanted federal blue.
Losin’ is an easy game.
She writes from Japan
about squatting over privies
and the cherry blossom festival,
she has a July 15th port call
and will phone collect.

In l970 she is buying pumpkin seeds
from the health food store and sends
pamphlets from Another Mother for Peace.
She addresses me as Mrs. on pink rice paper,
her papa son chair blew off the truck
near Indio,
she worries about friends who may stop in,
plans a trip to visit Merlin,
thanks me for the curtains I sent.
She is waiting for the test results
from the doctor and wants to cut
the shawl I sent her in two pieces.
She writes to ask where U.C. Davis is.
She is taking a class in the Indian experience.

She is going on an Easter tour to Russia.
It is March she asks if I know
the exact date.
She is living in Germany at the time,
I write back saying the baby is due
on Hitler’s birthday.
She got a C in art history and is
staying home from school tomorrow
to work on her term paper.
Tonight she has polished
five pairs of shoes,
losin’ is an easy game.

Driving through town,
my daughter asks if it is better
to be on both people’s side,
or nobody’s side,
or just one person’s side.
I tell her there are always
two sides to everything
this and that.
I believe it is preferable
to understand both,
unless, of course, one is more correct,
for my sister who travels the world
I maintain the archives.

She writes from Japan on the slick
paper that hurts my eyes.
She bought a $100 batik and is
giving up teaching to open a shop.
She sends a note on flower shaped paper,
Sherry’s friend brought her a bag of food.
She is depressed because the man
at the unemployment office wasn’t nice to her.
She writes two days before my anniversary,
thanking me for letting her use Onoh, my car.
She is buying a sporty black convertible.
Today she bought vinal boots,
tan shoes, an Indian book,
and went to model for Mr. Coursant.
The lady who brought the food bag
is coming tonight,
she will make a Japanese dinner.
Rice is cheap and no one likes sake,
so they don’t drink much.

A lot of weird people in town
for the jazz festival.
She had dinner with Forest and wants me
to take her to the Southwest Museum.
She writes saying she will send
half the $200 as soon as possible.
She offers to pay part of Onoh’s
hospital bill,
she will call it rent.
She is sorry about my move,
it’s too bad I didn’t have
someone to help.
She is taking real estate and reading
a book about the politics of hunger,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

Sherry gave her the money
to pick up her packages.
She asks about “the hapless daughters,”
tells me about her phone calls on my bill.
She writes asking advice about publishers,
cautions me to be careful with sharp knives,
unless she is my beneficiary.
She enjoyed my letter,
I am so witty.
She’s sorry I couldn’t stay
when I drove her home
her landlady asked me to leave
because the baby cried.
I have a photo of my daughter
on the beach that day in Carmel,
dressed in pink.
I drove home in the night,
400 miles with my mother in law.
My husband slept with a club by his bed,
I had been there alone for half
of our marriage,
it was the first I knew of fear.
He hated the baby’s crying too.
She asks me to send her
yellow Parker pen
if I find it.

She writes in ’73,
twelve days before my birthday,
saying she has just taken down
the roses I sent.
She tells me of the things she has sold
and the banner with her meditation
symbol in the center.
She thanks me for bringing Christmas
to her house, even though it was a hassle,
and really all she had to do
was vacuum and mop the floor,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

Now it’s come to distances
and everybody knows this blue song.
This is a blue, blue song
all women know who be still too long.
Too, too long and the distance is hardening
like the cracks around their eyes.
And this is a blue, blue song
all women know who be still too long.
Hope is more lethal than time.

All the news is bad again,
kiss your dreams goodbye,
she has waited all day
for Merlin to phone.
On shocking pink paper
she puts in a casserole for dinner,
waits for a call from New York.
The letters are sprinkled with names
of men I don’t remember.
The roof is leaking in two new places,
trying to forget growing old.
She sends batik Valentines
and talks of getting rid
of her power trips.
She says my daughter likes sprouts
and black strap molasses,
and should come to visit
at least twice a year.
She talks about balances,
and remembers the chapel
and says we should talk sometime
about Grandpa and Grandma,
for my sister who travels the world,
I maintain the archives.

She has sent Bo a harmonica.
I have always wanted a mouth bow,
I have always wanted a mouth harp,
I have always wanted an auto harp,
I have always wanted a harp,
I have always wanted to be an angel,
I have always wanted to be,
I have always wanted.
For my sister who travels the world,
buying harmonicas and Bourbon Street banjos,
I maintain the archives.

She is teaching batik
and making clothes to sell.
She sold Penelope for $500
and bought a van with purple wheels.
She always had cars that would
do anything but get you there.
She slept on a discarded work bench
from the hardware store,
with strands of rawhide to hold her in,
calling out requests for water
and demands for secretarial service.
One summer she painted all her
orange crates different colors,
she feels more secure having a van,
she is like a turtle.

In therapy once I said I was like a turtle,
’cause I moved so slowly and when I had to,
pulled my head in and waited.
I wear glasses made of tortoise shell
and shop for other useful items
with those hard, dark colors
in antique stores everywhere.

At Christmas she goes to
Hong Kong and Cambodia.
She says she will return home
penniless and broken hearted,
it is the only way she travels.
She has been on an Easter trip
to the Leningrad ballet,
and is on her way to Moscow.

She asks if she has a niece.
She sends an obi with instructions
on how it’s worn and where the baby fits.
She explains that the Japanese women
are all flat chested,
and that it may not work for me.
She may need to borrow
the fifty dollars again.
She got the announcement
and just knew it would be a girl.
She is sending a Kremlin tower
for the nursery,
and Bob’s missing chess piece.

She sends a mimeo after a weekend in Tokyo.
From the train window she watched
an old man trampling on a pile of grain,
and a girl walking in a tub of clothes,
the green of the rice paddies flashing by.
Rice is somehow poetic.
She was bothered by a man’s hands
on the subway,
she met a young student from Viet Nam
and was impressed by the absence
of North or South.
She is trying to get the nerve
to pierce her ears.

She is going to Athens for Easter.
She is worried about Daddy
and hasn’t heard from him in months.
She sent our sister French perfume,
she asks me to send bras.
She worries a lot about not being
able to get along with people.

She gets a clipping,
our brother’s band has cut a record.
Sherry sent her a hair dryer,
which she doesn’t like.
She is mad at Daddy and writes
so I can share in her depression.
Jan is in Denver,
Dave was here for the pop festival,
Bo is on the road.
She tells me to get night latches,
she bought mini dresses in London.

She writes to me in Bolinas,
asking if I serve tea in my shop.
She is working at the Carmel Inn
and doing one garden.
She signs her letter peacefulness.
For my sister who travels the world,
buying mementos and memories,
I maintain the archives.
There were bookshops and batiks
and bikinis to sell,
German shepherd dogs and cars
that wouldn’t run.
There was health food
and consciousness raising,
and trips to take.
I will not look back
for another decade.
And the postmarks read
Cairo and Holland
Luzern Tokyo
Munich Rome London
Nice Florence Berlin
Paris Mont Saint Michel
Athens Bacharach Hong Kong
Sendai and Bird Rock.

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