What Falls Off a Life
In my iPhoto library, this image is dated September 30, 2012. I spent the summer months previous to that fall walking sidewalks most mornings by busy streets near downtown Jackson, MS, where I live. It was the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death at 80 from pancreatic cancer—a relatively quick, but painful, death. Her life ending at home in the temporary sick-room we created from my old bedroom at the far end of our hundred-year-old farmhouse.
I have always stuck “things” in my pockets, intrigued by the terra-flotsam of time and vanished lives. Growing up on a farm in South Georgia, I found Creek Indian arrowheads and potsherds in the gullied spring rows of plowed fields. By my twenties, when those relics were exhausted, I settled for picking up blue glass, marbles, pieces of crockery, buttons, nails, horseshoes, and swirl-brown porcelain doorknobs from the same fields—the leftovers from all the unseen lives of my ancestors who farmed the same land going back to a great-great-grandfather who started the whole cycle of dust-to-dust on that hot, gnatty parcel of evergreen coastal plain.
For me, it was the comfort and connection created by these hard, broken things. Every artifact part of the web of living and dead. Life blooming in shards from the ground.
When I moved to the city, and cities, from college on, my coastal plains and gullied rows became parking lots, curbs, streets, and intersections. I am always surprised by what can be found, by what lies near a culvert, by what falls off a life as it passes by. And I still pick up the pieces. Still find anchor in these little pegs. Still arrange them in new shapes that remind me of life.