I inherit a house wracked with ringworm, pocked
by woodpeckers. I come into an attic packed with pudendas,
that is: moldy peach jam, pin cushions, and notions, that is,
expired insurance policies, half-melons of dirt dauber colonies
like clay rinds, like seeded flesh.
Stones, that is, pits sucked and spat into a dusty corner bequeathed
to me with the carapace of a mummified wasp, brown
recluse, caterpillar larvae, even a snake skin, crackling like
peanut shells underfoot. This is just the third floor.
I inherit furnished rooms.
A space heater with frayed cord on the coiled rag rug
flattened like a whirlpool in the parlor. A tv with a greening screen
and a volume range from mutter to scream.
My gross income, my net: kitchen cabinets shiny w/ stew beef grease & livermush grease -- the kind you scribble in w/ your
fingernail: mine. And a sink w/ a ring round
the bung-hole like those spatter plates
below the coils of the stove. Deduct these rings.
They are dependents of the boing of spigot drips – that is,
the moon’s curve and submerged currents – that is,
upon water breaking and labor. Deduct that void.
Dependent memories you can still claim.
My taxed knees, bowing beneath the lintels
and beams, my shoulders hoisting the glass & brass chandelier that
spiders the plaster above my dining table, say love.
Say I love you. That is, forgiveness calculated in lines and numbers.
Deduct my assets, that is What is mine.
I leave it all to you.
In “The Death of an Author,” literature, according to Barthes, is “the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.”
This trap might be the one that catches seeds and tomato skins and chunks of dog food in my sink’s bunghole. Or maybe it’s constructed of sharpened bamboo and reeds on some WWII movie set in Burma. Or a dangerous temptation like lust or chocolate cherries. Is this the identity, lost in its narrative trajectory, that succumbs to the kneejerk frame of “Call me Ishmael,” or “I’m Nobody – who are you?”
The voice in “Estate Tax” began, quite literally, as the voice of Nobody, putt-putting from phrase to phrase, as it inventories what’s left behind after a death (of the author?). This is a real house I lived in one summer when my parents took a country place rent free in exchange for cleaning out the detritus of forty years of hillbilly pack-ratting. I am still haunted by the sedimentary layers of cloth, of coats, of shirts, of boxes of buttons, of recipes (receipts) and the once-valued, now useless detritus of lives left to strangers to dispose of. This house looms as the interior of my mind: a sink trap of peelings, inherited axioms, and these dearly purchased sieves of identity: mine, love, dependencies.
This poem, this litany of contents, requires a human voice to animate it. Then, in a final flourish, it wills it all —taxed and deducted -- to the reader, to the you.