A Few Old Things by David Kirby



A Few Old Things
by David Kirby

Rilke said he wanted a room “with a few old things
and a window opening onto great trees,” which makes
me think of my favorite rooms and their furnishings,
an obvious choice being this brightly-lit bedroom,
newspapers and coffee cups on the floor, bedclothes
scattered everywhere, perfumed with the smell
of sex, maybe, or maybe not. And if not, okay;

they’ve smelled of sex before and will again.
Well, probably. As Fats Waller said, “One never
knows, do one?” Then there’s the kitchen with
a pizza in a blazing oven, perhaps, or a risotto
bubbling while you chop salad and blast Big Jack
Johnson on a pair of tinny speakers. Then it’s off
to the dining room and Chopin while you eat

your jambalaya or cassoulet or whatever it was
you cooked, and now the living room, a fire
toppling as you sip eau de vie and toy with a cigar
and listen to Penderecki’s Symphony no. 3,
the one he wrote for the war dead, the words sung
by soprano Dawn Upshaw, whose voice enters
the music so gradually that you don’t realize

someone is singing until she all but cries out in joy
or terror, you’re not sure which. Now you’re
in the space between image and idea where Keats
spent his happiest hours, skating back and forth
between some old book in your hand
and your memories of other books, of things you did
when you were a kid or even last week and things

other people told you they did, of your mother
and father, lovers you might have
treated better and ones who might have been nicer to you,
friends you broke with even though
you can’t remember a single one,
historical figures—silly ones, like Thomas Taylor
the Platonist, who invented a “perpetual lamp” fueled

by oil, salt, and phosphorus that exploded during
his demonstration of it at the Freemasons’
Tavern in 1785 which, he noted ruefully, raised
a prejudice against the device “which could never
afterwards be removed,” and merry ones, like
Don Juan of Austria who, just before the battle
of Lepanto, was seized by “a fit of exuberance

beyond rational thought” and danced a galliard
on the gun-platform of the command vessel
to the music of fifes. And all the while you’re thinking
of tomorrow and of the things you have to do
and the ones you want to do, and you wonder
if it’d be better to have a list to make sure you don’t
forget anything or if it’d be better just to get up

and start working and in that way do the thing you
weren’t expecting to do, the one that doesn’t
appear on any list or even in your mind as you
were dozing, waking, dozing again, the idea
that enters you like a cry in the night—one minute
you’re at a table in a tavern with your friends, it seems,
and the next, you’re in the street, saying, Now what?

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