Amherst Magazine

Attic Boxes

© Tess Taylor '00

I.  
Unsettled now, they scatter open—
inner chaos lifelike as odd birds.

They hold alibis & chatter, whir
of windows. Initials on a tarnished pitcher.  

Spidery pencil, Minneapolis, 1867. “Dear friend Lulu:
A cold wind whips this barren prairie.”


Bombay 1927: “I was presiding at the high school Jubilee:
the speaker referred to me as missionary Patriarch—”


1913: Helen’s verses to dawn on the Lusitania.
Helen crazed in Brussels and the Pater

yet trying to arrange some Belgian treaty.  
Myra writes: “We have survived the Indian raids.”

She huddles on her Minneapolis prairie:
Beyond her scratched-in words, lost Sioux.


II.
New frontier, new Indians:

1907: “Cable to First Congregational Church
from the American Marathi Mission: Our son is born.”


III.
That son dead my thirty years.
The house he left us is a clapboard body.

Beams creak as it settles. Bigger
houses sprout among the birches.

Above a cliff, the old
ramshackle attic with its crooked hold

on nothing really— letters, someone’s Moby Dick—
slips and lurches every year more seaward.

Downstairs, mothball smell & Scrabble board.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”

hovers, copied on the wall. Outside
the ocean tilts its hammered foil.

Lichen dapples granite rocks.
Our caulked house, rot expensive to fix,

winters. We putter among shells.
Old mission books still warp beneath its eaves:     

one examining “how other children live”
one explaining how to live deliberately.


IV.
What to do with yellow photos,
leathery Walden, its blurred inscription?

A moth gnaws Shetland sweaters.
Field mice nest in the stairs.  

String by string, bindings
snap free from letters, from lives.

Grandmother is dying.
Seven cousins eye her cottage on the coast.


V.
Last summer, I had a dream:
My grandfather stood at sea,

at once in his jungli topi,
a mission child adrift

in an empire of colonies,
he was also weathered, regarding

our century with benevolence.
I leave you this world, he said. You come from me.

This summer from this Maine town
two boys died in Afghanistan. One in Iraq.

Their names hung at the Dairy Queen:
“God bless the Small family.”

I woke up: Rain pounded the eaves.
Below me dark currents churned.