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Any Anxious Body

April 24, 2014

Any Anxious Body, by Chrissy Kolaya, is a volume of poetry that came to me directly from the poet. That was really nice (except she didn’t have enough ego to sign it), but it’s made me feel a little awkward talking about it– these feel like very personal poems. I finally gathered my courage after seeing what Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness had to say.  The poems in the volume center on a family that has some basis in the poet’s own experience, as she uses notes her mother saved from her great-grandmother, who was worrying about how her survivors would manage to pay for her funeral. One of the poems, “Found,” says that she also left

“a twenty-page letter to her own four children, an attempt at explaining her life.

I hope after you read it

it will help you all
to understand me better

maybe not

you might not even like me anymore

I don’t know,

she wrote in textbook-perfect penmanship.”

You can see, perhaps, where some of the lack of ego comes from.

My favorite poem comes early in the volume. Entitled “Household Economics,” it tells a simple and perhaps—to some of us—ridiculous story. It made me think of my mother’s comment upon seeing a “reuse, recycle” sign that in her day, they re-used things a lot more than we do now, washing plastic wrap and aluminum foil, re-soling shoes, darning socks, repairing bicycles, re-webbing lawn chairs. She was a child during the Great Depression, as I imagine the mother in this poem to be:

I.
His mother
was an aficionada

of rinsed
and reused
styrofoam.

Were you to go hungry at night
it wasn’t
on her watch—

oatmeal in the meatloaf,
a hunk of government cheese,
some dough
fried over the stove.

At the picnic
years of abundance later
he finished his cabbage roll,
set his paper plate on the table,
and,
plastic fork in hand,
stabbed
tiny holes
through the Chinet—
a pattern
of a flower.

What are you doing?
asked his wife;
married in
from the good side of town.

You
should do it, too,
he tells her,

or she’ll wash them all
and use them tomorrow.

II.

That night
she stood watch
as he went for the closets,
reaching deep into her hiding places
laughing—
Sweet Lord,
how long have you had
this? –
holding out another,
then another
of her treasures,
daughter-in-law
silently egging him on.

Each thing they threw into the trash pile
she remembered
saving for good,
saving against want,
a little something
put away
just in case.

As the sun set,
he hauled six trash bags—
brittle wrapping paper,
tinfoil smoothed flat,
napkins from the bakery—
out to the garage.

And that night
as everyone slept but her,
she crept out to the garage
and saved it all again.

The mother gets the last word, here, but the poem seems to me to be about the kind of meanness that is not only unnecessarily snotty, but culturally hypocritical. We recycle, but we laugh at people we label “hoarders” because we think they’ll never use it all. Some of us amuse ourselves by imagining a zombie apocalypse, and yet few of us cultivate habits that could help us get through harder times. We teach our kids to plant vegetable gardens, but we have to read about how to prepare some of the vegetables, because we weren’t paying much attention when our parents asked us to help tie up the tomatoes or snap the beans. I like the way this poem takes a look at that, recounting it and making it resonate.

That’s the way with most of the poems in this volume. There’s not a lot to them beyond the surface, but the way they’re put together tells a story much bigger than looking at the individual pieces might lead you to expect.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2014 12:40 pm

    How painful to read: “reaching deep into her hiding places
    laughing—”
    I hadn’t really thought about this from her point-of-view; I’m grateful for this poem. Thanks.

    • April 25, 2014 8:08 am

      It is painful, and funny. The poet says that when she reads it, people often laugh. I think at least some of the laughter must be because it makes an audience uncomfortable.

  2. April 24, 2014 9:10 pm

    Ouch, that poem hurt to read.

    • April 25, 2014 8:13 am

      Yes. I think the final line “saved it all again” makes the hurt visible. How many times must the mother have “saved” her little boy from hunger (specifically mentioned) and other things–skinned knees, broken arms, high fevers, being the last one to be picked up after sports practice?

  3. April 25, 2014 2:33 pm

    It is very sweet of y’all to sympathize with the mother. And honestly, life with hoarders keeps you in that tension – intense compassion for their fears and anxieties, and near-madness from having to cope with the results of it.

    I have a relative whose house was condemned by the fire department due to the monstrous piles of paper and trash that filled the place – think Colyer Brothers. Think “landfill.” (Complete with rodents and bugs.) It’s not meanness or cultural hypocrisy to recognize a mental illness, and to try to mitigate the very real physical dangers that illness presents to the people in the home. We are told to wash our hands, too, but when you wash your hands seventy times a day and they are cracked and bleeding, recognizing that as a significant problem is sure not cultural hypocrisy. Like Jenny, I found the poem painful to read, but I felt a big pang for the son as well as for the mother.

    • April 25, 2014 2:44 pm

      I can see that you’d be living with a lot of tension about a house that was actually condemned by the fire department and a relative who doesn’t see the place as others do. Wow.
      I was thinking that “six trash bags” was a relatively small amount of stuff, but I guess it does depend on the size of the house.

      • April 25, 2014 8:29 pm

        (Not just one relative. It runs in the family. That thing with the Chinet? That really happens, and sometimes, they don’t wash them. Just save them. Because you never know when a dirty Chinet plate might come in useful.)

        *laughs* I have to admit, when I read “six trash bags,” I thought, “Oh, he cleaned out one of her closets.” Cuz that’s how it goes down.

        • April 26, 2014 10:18 am

          I see. This is the other side of the coin from having relatives who do things like throw out a grandmother’s seasoned iron skillet because it looks dirty.

  4. May 5, 2014 12:50 pm

    Oh yes, oh yes. My mother used to wash plastic bags and hang them on the line. And once we had a garage sale, and there were things that didn’t sell, and we loaded them into the back of the car for her to take to the thrift shop on the Monday, and instead she put it all back in the cellar…

    • May 5, 2014 12:58 pm

      And then you had to deal with all that stuff when she died.
      I don’t know. Is there a moderate view on this topic?
      When it’s time to clean out cardboard boxes, I let Ron go down and do it and I try not to look. This time I only rescued three small ones from the garbage pile, one of them the traditional “birthday can” that my father decorated and we give each other at birthdays, when anything will fit inside.It may be looking a little shabby, but I don’t think I can let it go during my lifetime. Maybe it’s time to look for something for my brother that will fit inside, and then he can store it for a while.

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