Bag It, Box It, Haul It Away

By Jay Leeming

What’s the matter? Stuff is the matter and our basement
       is filthy with it, our ignored understory grown lumber-
cluttered and impossible so my wife and I descend
       to wrestle with the rusted-out wheelbarrow festering

tilted beside the unstartable lawnmower and the extra

freezer, the two of us tangling with moldy drywall, broken
       bicycles and that heap of gray peeling stair treads
their half-pulled nails all askew like arrows fired
       at ten different targets. Matter is mother, is milk crates

a-clatter with extra faucets and so in a faded T-shirt

and ragged jeans I go huffing the leftover porcelain
       toilet top, cracked desk drawer and crate of tile down
the low corridor up three battered stairs then out
       under the sky, each trip a rebirth, a bringing of things

to light, the shadow-world made conscious but like dreams

remembered later they seem silly, unimportant now.
       Two previous owners plus our neglect means multiple
jelly-jars full of nails, a bucket of gravel, a torque-
       wrench and a rusty alternator, every clogged caulk-gun

and bent window screen witness to dramas unknown, mute

observer to gone days but perhaps the things are the real
       story and we’re what’s marginal, aside, gutter-running life
merely assisting matter in its journey: the pine tree
       going from forest to lumberyard to living room furniture

to landfill, the copper in the hill traveling from mineshaft

to factory to radio circuit board to a cardboard box bound
       for the dump just because we call it broken. But what
in this thing-busy cosmos of crumble and squeak is ever really
       broken? We are done with it but perhaps it is done

with us. My wife does upstairs duty categorizing the jumble,

triaging the hodge-podge, resplendent in sweatshirt and head-
       scarf she’s rough-sorting screws and bolts, cracked outlet covers
and sockets, electrical thing-a-majigs and someone’s ancient
       peach preserves. We box and donate and bag and toss away

but the material world keeps coming, the two of us throwing

whole days at this task only to find our mold-prone corners
       still rowdy with badly-patched garden hoses, two crates
of splintery shingles, three torn lampshades, a broken shovel
       and eight wooden doors. Matter has its M.O., its list of demands

to which I’m hostage, by which I’m hampered and harangued

even into writing up this autumn accounting of our fusty
       cobweb-curtained spaces chock-full of the what, the whatever,
the worn-out and withered, abject objects we didn’t know
       lurked beneath us like forgotten anchors, barnacles, unsaid

things, cinder blocks dragged behind a car. Was it after a day

like this that Plato first hankered for a luminous dreamworld
       of stuff split from the real, celestial blueprints, shapes
without weight? I sweat and carry, I toss and trudge. I lug
       another armload of useless crap to the street and then go back

to the dusty, lightbulb-hung basement by which I’m earthed.


Jay Leeming is a poet and storyteller who, in response to Covid-19, told fifty stories online over ten weeks during the spring of 2020, connecting the wild river of poetry to the earth-based stories humans have carried in their voices for over ten thousand years. He is the author of Miracle Atlas, Dynamite on a China Plate, and the recipient of an NEA fellowship.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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