Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Remembering a Bit of Found Poetry 

The summer before graduate school (1982) I moved into my own little basement apartment in a small town not far from campus. The apartment was just right for me – knotty pine walls, a block from town, and very inexpensive. I decided that I needed a new mattress, and not having much (ok, any) money, I started searching the newspaper classified ads for a used mattress.

The ad I answered read something like “Double mattress, practically new, very clean, $50.00.” The man’s voice was full of gravel and smoke. He gave me directions to a sod farm a couple of towns over from where I was living, so I hopped into my old gray Omega and headed out to the farm with a girlfriend.

The man was in his 60’s, dressed in farmer’s overalls and a dark flannel shirt. Although he had obviously just showered and dressed (his wet hair was slicked back and the scent of fresh soap hung about him), everything about him seemed permanently stained the color of the rich soil surrounding his little house…his hands, the knees of his trousers. When he shook my hand in greeting, it felt more like the surface of cement than living flesh.

He ushered us into the spotless and spare living room, where the mattress and box spring leaned up against the far wall. He introduced the items like they were old acquaintances, which I guess they were, being more than twenty years old. He and his sister had lived alone in the house almost all of their adult lives, and she had recently died.

I was pleased with what I saw. Both pieces were covered in a rich golden floral fabric and looked well cared for.

I remarked to the man that the mattress and box spring looked brand new, and, although I am writing this account nearly 21 years later, I will never forget the poetry of his exact reply: “They belonged to my sister. My sister was a clean woman; she never married, you know.”


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