Yard Sale
By Karen Mandell

Useless, I could tell instantly.
Baby toys in plastic orange and red, grimy fry pans, bent hollow-ware
that burned in the sun.
But I walk in past the woman and the baby sitting on the concrete stoop.
I’m on my way out before I see the books piled on the grass,
their pages soft with age, the damp dried out of them.
The Sun Also Rises, the striped Scribner edition.
Do I have this one at home?
I crouch down and turn limp pages, not reading, brushing off dust,
unwinding a tendril of cobwebs from my finger.
The odor of paper stored in boxes too long.
This one’s not worth it, broken spine, even for a quarter.
I put fusty Hemingway down.
The baby cries, his voice quavering and scratchy.
The woman picks him up and says it’s time for a nap,
you’re ready aren’t you, you’ll lie down for a little while.
I stand up, the sun hot on my hair.
I want to lie down, a baby, in a darkened room with only a thin cover.
An opened window with a fan going somewhere.
I’d close my eyes even if I didn’t really want to because there’s not much
fight left in me right now.
The baby whimpers.
I forget what city I’m in,
whether it’s Minneapolis or Boston before that or Chicago back even further.
I’m a burnished nub, everything else
is burned out of me, clarified.
Even so, I have to get back to the car,
do the things that make it go,
add on to myself the crumbled pieces
that fell off and lie there, in the grass.


I recently completed a novel, Repairs and Alterations, about an elderly tailor and his revelations to his family about what really happened to him during World War II. Currently, I teach writing at Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts, after living in Minnesota for eight years. Here's a bit of culture shock: In Minnesota when the traffic lights are on the blink, cars politely take turns going, as if there's an invisible cop directing traffic. In Boston, cars stream by in one direction until the cars in the other direction start honking and shoving their way through. You've got to admire both the orderliness and the spirit. But it's a little scarier here.


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