Director of Memory Care
Dear sir or madam (or search committee), I was thrilled
to see the posting for Director of Memory Care clanging
the employment registers I’m ringing up this morning.
I believe I meet the must-haves for this position, being
somewhat fusty myself. I like the smell of old, real
hardbound books on my Globe barrister’s shelves
(mainly filled with works no one reads these days,
the passe old laureates who wrote about actual laurels:
A.E. Housman’s fleet lads. I know which poets slugged
their stanzas at the Library of Congress. I know that
it was leather-faced Kennedy inaugural reader Robert
Frost who quipped, “Pretty things well said, it’s nice
to have them in your head.” I can play at Auden and
Yeats with the ardor of a Baptist at Bible Camp sword drill.
I held Wallace Stevens’ swig when he swung at Hemingway.
In sum, my enthusiasm for antiquities is not limited to poets
who didn’t spew confessional resentment about what it’s
like to be fat, or malcontented, or find a zit on prom night.)
I appreciate the well-turned bed as much as the well-turned
phrase. I admire the crisp precision of the military
the coin bounce on a bunk tucked with stiffened tension.
I am punctual and orderly, more a cataloger than a hoarder.
I flatter myself that nothing slips me, that I notice
I like the vaguely picholine, somewhat mollusk-like smell
of asphalt streets after rain just broke a long dry spell;
an odor of forgotten things, like libraries with spiral
iron staircases and metal shelves that crank closed to
seal the collections of relics, cranks that are obsolete now
due to the ranks of plantiffs’ bars offering design corrections.
I like the chalky olfactory assault of falling lath and
plaster, the bitter oxide smell of lead sash weights hovering
over 16-pane wavy glass with uncaulked muntins and chunks
of petrified glaze staring out from tongue-and-groove plank
I like the comfortable funk of old leather saddles, saddle bags,
and the liniment hints of paste wax the enviro-Nazis have
vilified. I like the skunky whiff of old wool or tweed
and (My Dog Checkers aside), a modest Republican clothcoat
picked over by mothballs and hipsters making frugality chic.
I keep a desk for old Christmas cards from people I liked
in 1982, and I store my photographs on nonacid paper in
dry plastic boxes in dark third-story closets. I preserve
for the archives of the curious, out of love for the prosaic or
superstition I could not tell you. (I once found a wallet
of an infant in the garage of a house newly purchased and left
it be, feeling wrong to touch it. Then when I saw in the
its parents, the photo’s two faces torn down the middle, I
made a little gallery of the family, reunited in a roof joist.
I felt that the baby was crying for that.) In the garage, too,
I store my archaic skateboard with flint wheels worn slippery,
desiccated bicycle tires, the dry rot of habits to be parked
As you can see, I am a capable and compassionate taxonomist
of detritus, a principled custodian of skeleton keys, a fond
rememberer and tour guide of various deciduous lives,
available at your every, and earliest, convenience, waiting to
If you have any thoughts on this poem, Pamela Sumners would
be pleased to hear them.