The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
17.4 (Fall 2017)
F I N A L I S S U E
Fiction & Poetry
Eventually, It All Gets Used
John R. Harris
A farewell poem to the Center’s ambitious project and, indeed, to youth and its naiveté, this poem nevertheless offers one overarching hope about our lives: though our preparation doesn’t go the way we’d planned, “eventually, it all gets used.”
How many years are in a thousand days?
At one per day, the Johnson & Johnson box
Of Q-Tips held almost three years; popped open
On Day One, its ticker would have stopped my heart
Like some hour-glass whose vat-sized top bowl
Held sand enough to fill a beach. “Three years,”
I would have said, “Where’ll my boy be in three years?
Will I still have a job? Will the Market have crashed,
Playing accordion on my life’s economizing?
Will I have life still—both eyes still good enough
To read? Hospitals still other planets to me?
All our parents likely dead and gone by then,
With only our moms left now….” That’s how I’d think,
Darkly endowed to find the ghost in stockpiles,
Just as I’m morbidly given to eulogy
When something emptied rattles in the trash.
Something in me wants to bronze the box.
I dug up red tips one year because the City
Threatened the pillory for blocking a stop sign.
I unlovingly pitched them along the back yard’s bounds.
Now the fence is gone, and they, Brobdingnagian
Asparagus, threaten the City’s power lines,
Unreachable tips reddening every spring.
I see Big Brother’s summons again in tea leaves.
I wrote a book about the airborne philosophy
Of Saint-Exupéry some dozens of years ago—
Published, with thanks, by a Respectable House,
And I then on my way to… I forget what career
That moved before I got there. Like Saint-Ex’s landing strip
During the Drôle de Guerre, before I could get wheels down,
It shifted. And now my publisher, last I looked,
Proudly grooms tomes about pure-blooded dogs.
Sometimes a gust pastes a scrap of French idealism
Over my psychic windshield. I squint and read,
And I think, “Now, which book was it where he wrote that line?”
And the City’s street-sweep driver grinds down his window,
Says, “I’ll take that,” and kindly asks, “You lost?”
Why did I say “grind”? You remember why, don’t you,
Hypocrite lecteur. They must think “Alzheimer’s”,
Our boys and girls. My boy, he’d chin the window’s sill
And stand spellbound if a street-sweeper passed,
As if the sky were singing. Now he wears a hardhat
And I worry over him a thousand miles away
Like the Little Prince over his asteroid…
As many miles away as Q-Tips in a box.
I bought a microphone to rig to my computer—
Found it the other day—was going to make audio-books—
Go market-driven and state-of-the-art
(Though not quite catering to dogs and cats).
Never popped the box. Never cracked the plastic package.
Sorry, old thing. When we leave this old house,
I’ll leave you in the trash. Either that, or cast you bronze…
And my skills, as for bronzing, closely approximate
My audio-recording expertise, or competency
With joy stick and landing gear (or, for that matter,
My knowledge of how to succeed in Academe).
Goodbye, Old Paint! I guess you rode your rodeo,
Even though you never left your plastic stall.
You remind me gently that I never learned to ride
When I still might have learned—you boxed up, and the sack
Of peanuts I grew and dug but never shelled,
The chainsaw I was given but never cranked up
(Every summer, on my to-do list, “crank up chainsaw”…
And summers passed, shelves cobwebbed, mousetraps rusted),
The Christmas-present videos I never watched
And couldn’t, now, for want of functional VCR.
As for that, Old Paint, I couldn’t romance your mike
With readings of my novels—not bow—if loco weed
Drove us both to try one first, last woolly ride.
The hardware your software was designed to run on…
Its keyboard, I recall, was carried to Good Will
Many long packages of Q-Tips ago.
Eventually, it all gets used.
Even what’s not used builds signage of roads not traveled.
You look back: there they are, filmy in their sealed cases
Or opened and emptied—grains that dropped from the hour-glass,
Milestones of goals met and passed (because the meeting
Wasn’t the promised stay, and feet kept going)
As well as “Keep Out” postings and “Road Closed” warnings.
Had I the knack of bronzing all you trophies
And room to keep you all—in gratitude, I’m guessing,
Or maybe regret or, strangest of all, love…
But the bronze and the shelf are somewhere in here, somewhere
Between my words. At the bottom of the sea, they say,
Saint-Ex’s bones snooze behind a rusted joy stick
In damp sand that long ago measured an eon’s hour.
Oh, how I hope they don’t dredge it all up
In oil and barnacles: officially forgotten monument
Now on some smutty beach where French is no longer heard.
The bone-rattling trash is the slag of heated bronze.
You things of my life, you were all put to use,
As I was put to use, worn and grimed at the edges,
And parts of us unopened, since… since use takes time,
And time is finite. “Use this” means “don’t use that”.
The good and the bad of it? I think just wear and tear,
And even melted tape on things sealed in reserve,
Is all good. So must my benediction be:
Know that, eventually, it all got used.
Dr. John Harris (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, U of Texas at Austin) is the founder and president of the Center for Literate Values.