The Art of Losing
The art of losing isn’t hard to master…
so many things seem filled with intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
– Elizabeth Bishop
I. Cake Plates
Pink roses on bone china, water glasses
rimmed with silver bands, crystal goblets
the polished silver tea service
all crowded onto the dining room table.
Once prized possessions, now burden.
My niece will take the china
my daughter the wine glasses
the rest cast off, become
quintessential garage sale.
My mother watches
rubbernecking an accident scene.
Let’s pick four cake plates to keep.
She sneers, then softens
sees them as expectant wallflowers
hopeful they’ll be chosen
and mutters, don’t forget who’s the mother.
We’ll keep the Aynsley bluebird and rose plate
you and Dad brought back from England.
But this one… I shake my head. Look
at the crackling on Dad’s pineapple
upside down birthday plate.
She rubs her finger over the chipped
edge as if to heal it, recalls how
she’d hold her breath, hope the
cherries nesting in sticky brown sugar
would release from the pan.
It goes into the discard pile.
I lift the hydrangea plate. We remember
Aunt Sarah’s cinnamon crescents
taste buttery dough on our tongues.
I’ll use it when you come over.
She grumbles, crumb cake out of a box
and pushes the stack roughly toward me.
Take them. Throw them away. I don’t care.
I choose four.
Musty boxes and plastic bins
stacked floor to ceiling
occupy a basement corner. I lug
two cardboard cartons upstairs
softened by years of dampness.
Bloated albums contain corsages, hair
ribbons, dance programs, yellowed
report cards, autographed photos.
Mom, I say, tell me every detail —
how you and grandma picked the fabric
and pattern for your dress,
the dance music, your date.
She nods. Both eager and reticent
to go back in time.
I lift the first album, wipe the layer
of dust from the once creamy
cover. The pages are brittle.
Corsages crumble at the lightest touch.
Mom doesn’t seem to notice.
Jerry Soless, she says. His name rolls
gently off her tongue, before the turn.
Now forgetful and distracted,
Jerry’s betrayal with a best friend
She relives the deceit and
we gently place the ancient
petals, the dance program and Jerry’s picture
into a black plastic trash bag.
She hugs me when I leave
and whispers, he never became half
the man your father is, you know.
And wasn’t nearly as handsome.
Floorboards creak beneath unstable legs.
The bones of her home reveal hidden traps—
a loose tread on the stairs, uneven
thresholds, the bathtub growing deeper.
Water boils for tea, the kettle whistles
until its throat is dry
transfixed, she doesn’t hear it.
The dining room rings with the voices
of her squabbling sisters, peevish through
old age, still clamoring to be their Papa’s favorite.
She remembers standing at the door the year
of the Thanksgiving day blizzard, watching
for late arrivals. Relief washes over her
once again as they trudge snow on the carpet.
Gazing out the dining room window
she sees the yard transformed, violinists play
Vivaldi on the back porch, her husband walks
their daughter towards the arched rhododendrons.
What she doesn’t see are bald
brown patches in the lawn spreading
like liver spots, the list of the maple
her husband planted when they first moved in
the splintered swing
dangling from a dead branch.
She snaps back.
Now, she is the one swinging
in the wind and the breeze is no longer gentle.
Weary, she paces from one room to another
unwilling to imagine strangers inside her walls.
IV. Garage Sale
A loveseat, scratched nightstands
beds covered with crocheted afghans—
all displayed on the front lawn.
She walks into the house to see
if what her children agreed
she could keep is still there.
Back outside, she walks around
long tables, Dishes accumulated
through Green Stamps
lie amidst a mix of flatware.
She fingers a towel, traces
the pattern on the rim of a china plate.
Neighbors sit on her husband’s
recliner, strangers lie on the
couch her son brought to college
a teenage girl admires herself
in her makeup mirror—
Rather than strangers picking
through her things like rotting carcass,
she hopes a truck will pull up
take the contents of her life whole
A family will pop out and she will tell them
to be careful of the short leg
on the dining room chair
how the shelves sway in the curio cabinet.
She watches as one by one items
disappear into unknown hands and
her children fill an old cigar box with
dollars and coins.
V. Artful Losing
Her children don’t notice
loss burrowing into every pore.
They plow ahead, clear the field
for new homesteaders
who won’t realize their seedlings will be
full grown before they know it.
Time is an erratic thief, she will warn them.
Don’t bother to lock your doors.
It finds its way in.
When it’s time to move into the apartment
her children have found for her, she will suck
in a deep breath, repeat her husband’s
constant refrain to embrace the future,
envision his exasperating shrug when
she was stuck, remember
if she lost him, she can bear anything.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master—
lost keys, names, voices of old friends,
her mother’s face. She will become
the person who believes:
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Jan Marin Tramontano is the author of three poetry chapbooks, Woman Sitting in a Café and other poems of Paris, Floating Islands: New and Collected Poems, and Paternal Nocturne. She’s published one novel, Standing on the Corner of Lost and Found and is finishing her second. Her poetry, stories, book reviews and interviews have also been published in numerous literary journals such as Adelaide, AOIS21, Poets Canvas, Chronogram, Women’s Synergy, Knock, The DuPage Valley Review, Moms Literary Review, New Verse News, Byline and previous issues of Up the River. She belongs to the Marco Island Writers Association but her heart still lies with her beloved community of Albany Poets.