first published in the Village Rambler
By Katie O. Koerper
Strangers move carelessly through the private space. Rooms full of people, touching, fingering every single possession that’s fit to be sold, and some that aren’t. The house hums like a beehive. Down in the dim basement a workbench filled with hand-tools, well-chosen and well-cared for. “I thought she’d always been single,” a man says with saw in hand, “But these are a man’s tools.”
At the top of the cramped, turning stairs, the kitchen cupboards, clean and bright, are filled with cooking utensils for work beyond the plain and simple. Kitchen tools bundled with masking tape wait like hopeful orphans. Through the door to the dining room table, glossy and long, piled high with the requirements of feasting. Platters, bowls for soups, both cream and clear. Plate upon plate, patterns, shapes and colors to satisfy the hunger of every eye. “Didn’t know she entertained. Never saw anyone coming or going,” says a woman.
Around a corner, the study is filled with the interests of the world—maps, pictures, books. And bundles of signed greeting cards shaped into solid bricks, held tight with fat rubber bands. Fifty cents a bundle: love and best wishes. Past the hall closet lined with hooks and hangers still doing their jobs, giving shape to old and heavy coats that will never be worn again.
Up the stairs, stepping aside at the landing for a man carrying a rolled carpet. People everywhere, coming and going between the bedrooms as if this were a grand house party without a hostess. They laugh, asking questions no one can answer. “Why would anyone keep all of this?” “Why would anyone paint a room this color?” Not looking for the secrets in the books or sewing or beautiful old clothes.
A little girl holds her father’s hand as they walk slowly through the hall. “She died, didn’t she?” she asks, and her father nods as they move past me and into a side room.
Back to the small bedroom at the far end of the hall. No one here. A row of tiny organdy dresses hanging on the curtain rod, a shelf of worn toys and books, and in the corner a stack of small tissue-wrapped bundles. The door swings closed as the party continues. Muffled footsteps on the stairs, voices calling from the bathroom, answering from the linen closet.
In the quiet room I unfold tissue paper. Baby clothes, carefully folded and kept safe from the movement of time, and at the bottom, under the yellow corduroy suit, an undisturbed bundle with no price. A soft wool baby-bunting, still perfect, waiting for the light of day again.
first published in The Village Rambler
Still Life in Silver
By Katie O. Koerper
Beside my sink a bouquet
of old silverware stands
carelessly arranged in a measuring cup.
Flowers and leaves,
swirling vines and tendrils,
caught on the handles of forks and knives and spoons.
Slender, luminous stalks, polished to a moon-glow,
reflect the dreams of my great-grandmothers,
their sisters and daughters,
and my own memories of
faces from long ago,
baby teeth clinking on
and the pleasure of
last night’s dinner party.