I've got a natural tendency to retain things. I'd say I was a "packrat", except that my understanding is that actual packrats live their lives more sensibly than the myth asserts, and I'd use the word "magpie", except that my nest never really looks as if it were feathered with aluminum foil.
I sometimes take some kind of comfort in believing that it is my very own special neurosis. I sometimes take moral consternation in thinking that it's merely my personal irresponsible sin. The reality is that neither of those explanations really quite fits the facts. I often find that one can lump together all the myths of science and religion and still not meet the average, ordinary boring suburban flaw.
I touch a thing, and it has a memory for me--I associate it with a time and a place. A letter is not print, it is a day in 1978. A chess set is neither a game nor a collectible, but an occupied place in my mind. I touch something and, speaking entirely non-metaphysically, something transfers within my mind--a new Jerusalem, on England's somewhat windswept hills. If, indeed, as Mr. Hammerstein asserts, each place has new lovers now on the same silent hills, looking at the same blue sea, then let me say that my personal Dovers can be found in anything from a Golf chocolate bar wrapper in a scrapbook of a 1980 Summer in London (as well as the curlicues from the girl with the frizzy hair, virtually a stranger to me then and always, but her note is on hand, saying she wanted Kinks tickets) to a set of Hardy Boys books. I always think it's easier when one's personal romanticism is not wrapped up so much in romantic memories exclusively (which get their own place in one's personal jewelry case, but are not the whole darn tackle box), but in free associations for an entire life.
There sits my butterfly box, which I will soon fetch to Texas. It's not merely a combination of alcohol and cyanide, polyurethane, glass, wood, and colorful lepidoptera. It's a peanut butter jar with the sweet smell of bitter almond. It's a utility room in Gurdon, Arkansas in which a huge colorful moth, departed, sits held into place by pins. It's a night in 1974 in a room full of other high school sophomores, using an odd device that sliced the styrofoam, and the memory, even, of finding a treasure trove of book lice, which allowed me to trade like any NFL draft day for genus and species uncounted.
A chapbook signed "Good luck, America" is not a book of poems written in the 1970s, but instead nights at a poetry workshop in an old building in London. Robert Heinlein paperbacks, well used, represent days at the Arkandelphia public library, learning of the wider world through the only lenses that mattered, those kaleidoscopes with the labels Heinlein, Asimov, and Andre Norton. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Fighting Man of Mars" is a weekend at the Velda Rose hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, swimming at night in a third story pool, touring in military amphibious vehicles converted into tourist devices called ducks, and eating pancakes in
little European breakfast rooms on the main street in the early morning.
Even now, a book about tropical fish is the memory of being 13 and entranced with the idea of keeping a tank.
A book about cactus is a trip to the Huntington Garden in San Marino, California, where the cacti burst barrels in their watery zeal to thrive.
I know, deep down,they are only things. The people in one's lives transition and depart. Things live noble but perhaps piteous lives, dependent on the appreciation of the many of us who are congenitally unable to preserve, but can only love, ineffectively if unreservedly. I imagine that the velveteen rabbit was no less real, though, merely because a button needed to be resewn.
Tonight I am thinking about treasures laid up on earth, only none of mine cost over a hundred dollars, and most cost less than twenty. But in my mind, they are uninsurable and irreplaceable. They're not of value--their replacement value is minimal. But I grasp them, and they belong to me, and they are my past, my present, my future, my blood, my body, my hope, my fears.