Fragile – Keep Dry – This Way Up


It’s raining and I’m carrying a cardboard box
under my umbrella.
This box banged up against my hip
squared under one arm, a cube-shaped child
waiting to be filled.
My moving box straddles
the narrow hip saddle
where babies, baskets, and boys
ride alongside.
Women were built to carry the weight
of the world.
I knew this the first time I pulled on stockings
smoothed my skirt down in a wind storm
made love to a man
cradled an inconsolable child
hefted a load of laundry
buried an animal
planted a tree.
I knew this when they took her breasts
and left her with two flat smiles, jagged
across the tender beige continent above
the volcano of her bird heart.
It is no small thing to dig a hole.
It is quite something else to fill a void
with living and once living things.

We wrap what we keep carefully
to avoid damaging our memories,
send them down opaline waves with letters
to our future, sunbathed selves asking
for a little help back here.
On the other end of home, we remove the stuffing
to unpack what keeps us, the way we pluck
the diaphanous cotton cloud from the pill bottle
to get down to the medicine that hinders or heals,
to clear the miniature and the mighty storms.

Cardboard boxes occupy my hallways and garages
basements and bedrooms,
they’ve held me fragile and kneeling
safe from the concrete, covered a broken window,
accepted spray paint leaving the ghost of objects
crime scene outlines of lanterns, wagons, and jewel boxes
in silver, cherry red, and candy apple blue.
Cardboard boxes have made fine pinhole cameras, dioramas, robots,
crowns, dollhouses, baseball bases, drums, spaceships, bookshelves,
shoulder cars and sleds for grassy, summer hills.
Sleeping mats, canvasses, fortresses, castles,
humble homes, sometimes
with a window on the open sky and a scatter of burning stars.

With them, I’ve caught oil spills, viewed an eclipse,
weaned abandoned kittens,
and announced that I am selling all my things
otherwise stored in cardboard boxes.
Rigid enough to hold all things precious and weighted,
your sleeping or still body for the pyre,
but cannot withstand being stacked
too high beneath others
or a rainstorm.

So I protect this versatile vessel-child, keep it dry,
because we are kindred.
We are grounded and useful
We can hold most anything, be made, remade,
folded over, mended, cut and reshaped,
strong under pressure but fragile underwater.
We are happiest when warm and dry and still.
And though we may carry and become most anything
we are oriented to the world in only one direction—
This Way Up.

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