I've spent the afternoon cleaning our sunporch/craft room, stuffing two garbage bags full of junk. Every time I come home from visiting my parents, I want to throw stuff out. I want to toss every scrap of paper, every lone rubber band, every twist-tie. It's true, I know, that I might need those things later. I have caught myself in desperate need of a single rubberband. But my mother grew up during the Depression, and like many of her peers, she saves everything with a ferocity that is foreign to most of us who grew up in later decades. She saves pieces of aluminum foil; bags full of hotel soaps and shampoos; and containers of all sort: butter, cottage cheese, yogurt--you name it. Eggs shells and coffee grounds are tossed onto the outdoor plants. Having a proclivity toward an earthy crunchiness myself (you couldn't escape that in my family), I know that coffee grounds are good for plants, but I can't bring myself to do it. The poem below--the first I ever had accepted for publication--was prompted after a visit to my mother's home many years ago.
What does it mean
to throw away a sliver of soap?
How many years must an empty
container be saved? She can't
bring herself to wear an apron
or to save the chicken broth
to use as soup stock later.
Her refrigerator has no patience
for a single pickle or two stalks
of limp celery. Her skillet refuses
bacon grease; her plants renounce
eggshells and coffee grounds, preferring
squirts of store-bought fertilizer.
Serving up supper
straight from the pan
she feels the pains
of child-guilt, heavy
and familiar as the early dark
of winter afternoons.
Boneless, skinless breasts reek
of idelness; she sways
under the weight
of her mother's earnest face
and the memory of her quick, red
hands gouging out
~Sarah Cummins Small