Stephen Mead

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

A Thousand Beautiful Things

Life Support

Feathers collected due to patterns or glint, and stones as well, depending on textures, ripples or mica sheen…so much of childhood condensed to palms or to pockets and what they could hold…milkweed pods, snail shells, wild grasses, flowers… Life reduced and then enlarged by a twig and a stream, that twig becoming a ship, that stream, an adventurous journey… Surely, even in our adult lives, these things have their places, a drawer, box or shelf, a secret and its journal written on air with invisible ink.

Where any object finds itself set can be a clue to that mystery.

I’ve visited many a home where the fridge is catch-all and patchwork shrine. Cars, keys, lighters, mail, business cards, magnets, pencils, safety pins, favorite cups, appointment notices, grocery lists, reminders of things ARE the things there just where last left and kept just in case…


In my apartment, right outside the kitchen where another small hallway starts, an old bookcase serves as sanctuary for what I think I might need. Well, it certainly is handy, and red corduroy covered, like a jewel case. Aside from the two shelves of novels and poetry, each a voyage booming between pages, on top of the case is another kind of library. Yes, there are more post cards and art cards and decks of both Animal Spirit and Goddess Knowledge cards, but there is also a reference catalogue in the very plethora of stuff among more stuff.

Not only do I have a bowl for mints, a dish for memo pads, a holder for chapstick, a tin for rubber bands, tacks, pens, paper clips and screws, a case for sun glasses, measuring tape, a spool of red thread, and spray bottles of essential oils, plus a flash light when I blow a fuse and the bats come out, I also have a diorama under glass. It’s sort of a large rectangular keepsake paperweight, beneath which are photos of my partner and me taken at various stages in our relationship. (Interesting how our weights change too, more towards the zaftig.) Strewn among these images are movie and concert stubs, tags from flowers, anniversary and birthday dates etc., a small blue peace banner hand stitched by a friend, and several gold dollars. These are to denote luck and a richness in love.

Of course, half the time, cigarettes, bills and left over coffee winds up covering this tableau. Plus I keep my electric razor there, a collection of angel, ribbon and butterfly pins, a silver “until there’s a cure” bracelet and a little black velvet pouch filled with three calming energy stones. A bit of the lazy half-baked pagan meets a bit of the lazy half-baked bleeding heart, I’m afraid, and all of this a throwback to my childhood country walks. Still, I see nothing fundamentally wrong with any of it. Better to hoard things which feed a private spirit than to hoard bitter grievances. Plus, there’s been occasion I’ve come across private offices, cubicles and homes that are so devoid of revealing any personality trait as to be either depressing or creepy.

I suppose in any artist there’s some of the voyeur, the detective, the shrink, yet I don’t feel it’s a matter of gossipy nosiness so much as plain interest in fellow humankind, a wanting to know what makes others tick. By what other means can one find understanding? Curiosity is often endemic to interactions between all. Judgment, however, based on ignorance, fear or hatred concerning that curiosity, is this what creates the use of weapons?

Some times I think certain objects which people have as little unknown oracles or votive flames. Back when I worked on an HIV unit there was one dear nervous Spanish patient who needed to keep his anxiety in check during all those long intervals between tests and waiting for results. In order to stay busy he found himself untangling the long tubes of nasal canula which provided his oxygen. Those things were always getting kinked, and when I gave him a fresh coil of the stuff he began to braid it, to make key chains out of it.

I have once such key chain on that book case in my hall, a present. It lies next to a very clear light green glass heart, a heart not envious, but emerald with purity. I visualize that patient and that key chain sometimes when saying prayers for the earth: life in and on land, all land, in and on water, all water, in and on air, all air. That key chain is what air came down to for one whom I cared for.

High above the bookshelf, just below the ceiling, are about a dozen fox tail stalks. These are tied in the center with scotch plaid ribbon and have two branches of lavender tucked within them. The furry tufts of the stalks go in two directions to create a symmetry which covers both the threshold of the kitchen and the living room. A friend and I were driving along a highway when I saw a field of these past the guardrails. She was game enough to stop and let me cut some, the tall tawny stalks going over my head. A few cars honked as they passed, but I believe we were way off to the side of the road.

It’s amazing how long these fox tails have lasted without even a fixative spray. They remind me of an old Hallmark Hall of Fame Production called, I think, “The Littlest Angel”. This small country boy gets to heaven and is all excited because he’s going to give god his gift of treasures he keeps in a box, a box filled with butterfly wings, starfish etc. But then the small boy gets embarrassed, and starts feeling ashamed because all the other recently deceased spirits are some how coming up with celestial high brow game show merchandise, gold harps and the like. In the end all turns out all right for the little boy’s treasures have come from the heart, and of course everyone, finally listening to God for a change, feels that’s what is most essential.

Sentimental as it is, I still lean, unapologetic, toward such a way of thinking. I mean, it’s like this: on that oxygen canula key chain I could place a key to a Mercedes but it’s the key chain which was made by a spirit of someone whom I knew and loved, and the Mercedes, nice as it might be, would not alter that.

Once, in Canada, on the subway, my Mom had her purse pick pocketed. Weeks after returning home, a package from Ontario arrived in the mail. In it was her stolen Woolworth’s wallet with all its memorabilia. This included a news clipping about her Father, crackling and yellowed, sealed in with a lock of his hair. Of course the money and robbers were long gone, but she was given back what was most precious to her.

Now that my Mom, and others I’ve loved are gone, I know more than ever just what things are, and just what things are worth.

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