For Dani, who makes it easier to sift and sort
They came off garage shelves stiffly
like the old creatures they were, sagging
cardboard file boxes encumbered with
the weight of words on paper, to fwump
onto the old concrete floor, poofing
decades of dust onto my cheeks and nose.
Each bore letters carved in faded Sharpie
on its flank—A–C, C–G, H–M, N–S, T–Z—
their concave backs swaying as I hefted
them one at time outdoors. I swiped a rag
over each before I lugged them indoors
where, I had vowed, I would purge mercilessly.
The boxes with years inscribed on them
had been easier: storage for old bills and
check registers, handwritten lists of monthly
debts paid, odd receipts unworthy
of the year’s tax file. Easy to pick through,
shred, recycle, toss into the blue bin
at the edge of the driveway.
But these five lettered boxes bore most
of what was left of a young journalist’s career—
by no means all—subject files of notes,
photos, stories dear to my heart from
days of serving three newspapers,
a wire service and a magazine.
Opening each box, sighing at the files
standing at attention, I took a deep dive
into the former me, a young woman
I no longer recognized. But with the opening
of each file folder, memories tumbled into
my lap like squirming puppies, eager for
attention: Remember me? Wasn’t that fun?
How can you possibly give me away?
But it’s time, I told the puppies. I can’t
keep you all anymore. I only have
so much space and years left, and you’re
important only to me anyway.
Really, for whom do we archive our lives?
For whom have we saved the bride’s thank you
letter after standing up with her and her groom
at their wedding? Who will read handwritten
notes scribbled by a newbie journalist watching
a roundup of wild mustangs in the high desert?
Who will understand the significance
of the creamy ribbon or recognize the name
on yet another business card, much
less on snapshots bereft of identification?
If I am brave, I’ll pronounce the answer:
I do it for me, to stir up the what-has-been
along with the dust, which is where I’m
headed in the end, which reminds me
time’s a’wasting and yes, it’s freeing to
locate and eliminate the no-longer-needed
bits in boxes or drawers or life.
But my heart lifts when I hold a file folder
and its inhabitants rise in me—especially
those long gone—and I read words they
offered the young me, who took them down
and corralled them on fragile pages
where, for just a short time, they lived
and were read by others who lived, too.