Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Knick-Knacks from Grandma's House

by Kevin Mosby


The Knick-Knacks:

"Live Bright" Motivational Pillow

Miniature Pinscher Welcome Sign

Big Stuffed American Cock

Fancy Wooden Owl

My Name in Floam on Box Wrapped with Cars 3 Wrapping Paper

Drag-Him-Down-The-Aisle Wedding Cake Topper

Peppermint Patty & Ceramic Miss Piggy Mug

Ceramic Owl Plate with Raisins

Pink "I Am Grey" Elephant Tape Dispenser

Plastic Moose

Plastic Blue Flower in Coke Bottle

Captive for the Sheikh's Pleasure and Other Novels

Stranded with the Navy Seal
"Relax" Seashell Sign

Fancy Marble Elephant with Werther's Original Caramels


I have a good grandma (had two: one died). Both grandmas are/were voracious collectors of knick-knacks.

Dead Grandma collected trinkets from Disneyland, the mall, dollar stores, yard sales.

Alive Grandma collects bric-a-brac from Istanbul, Paraguay, chic antique stores, something called a bazaar, places where they serve you tea while you’re browsing.

Sometimes I wonder which grandma I am. I think I am Dead Grandma. 


None of the objects in this cabinet ever inhabited either grandma’s house, but they would all have fit very well in Dead Grandma’s house. Dead Grandma would have particularly loved Ceramic Miss Piggy Mug and Drag-Him-To-The-Aisle Wedding Topper and Plastic Dollhouse Toilet (no close-up provided, but can be found near the feet of Big Stuffed American Cock above), which she would have placed on a shelf in the kitchen because it made her think of the phrase ‘don’t shit where you eat.’ Dead Grandma liked kitsch but she didn’t know it. I doubt she ever heard the word ‘kitsch.’ Or maybe someone used the word in conversation with her but she quickly changed the subject so her ignorance of the term did not have the potential to reveal itself. I don’t think Dead Grandma read at all (maybe the TV Guide) but if she had been a reader she would have read books like Stranded with the Navy Seal. Here’s the synopsis: “Working on a cruise ship was supposed to be the perfect distraction for chef Cady Crenshaw. Instead, it made her the perfect target. Abducted and thrown overboard into foreign waters, she has only one shot at survival…and it comes at the hands of an irresistible ally.”

Alive Grandma would consider all of these knick-knacks ‘crap’ and ‘dust collectors’ except maybe for Big Stuffed American Cock, which she might place high atop her elegant walnut hutch because she would likely consider it ‘tasteful Americana kitsch’ and she is a very proud American (‘land of the free’) so she likes to show off her national pride on a regular basis. [I’ve promised to give Big Stuffed American Cock to a Canadian friend ironically but now I am wondering if I should not renege and instead give it to Alive Grandma unironically.] She would certainly consider Plastic Moose a ‘plaything for little children’ and she would not be caught dead with Captive for the Sheikh’s Pleasure, although she might not mind being found dead with The Christmas Wish by Nora Roberts (under “Cowboys Are My Weakness” Sign near Big Stuffed American Cock) because given the title it can be assumed that God has at least a peripheral role in the romance, surely.


Dead Grandma has been ash nearly twenty years. I wish we kept grandma in a plain urn or even just a little wooden box in her old curio, now resting in my parents’ dining room. Instead the curio contains various paperweights, a mug I got at a Hawaiian luau that’s shaped like a carved tiki, a ceramic replica of the Las Vegas skyline, and a tiny Thomas Kinkade portrait of a calm blue river abutting a thatched-roof cottage in winter.

And instead of living what would have been her Golden Years in her favorite curio, Dead Grandma is in a box in a cold and ornate mausoleum that she would have detested. But at least the sunlight shines bright on her each morning as she overlooks the San Francisco Bay.

Grandpa threw away all Dead Grandma’s ‘crap’ shortly after she died. He’s a very tidy man and didn’t want the dust collectors around anymore. But then he promptly married a woman called New Grandma who had plenty of her own ‘crap’ so I think he was probably just making room. Now Grandpa and New Grandma have a lot of the same old crap that Dead Grandma would have had, including a very nice portrait of Mickey Mouse holding a little child’s hand. It hangs in the dining room near the good china.


I’ve had to furnish and decorate several apartments in recent years as I’ve moved from place to place learning various things and not. When I put objects in places at my new residence — knick-knacks and trinkets and baubles and other clutter — I think of Dead Grandma’s home, every piece of beautiful crap in its place.

Dead Grandma always wanted me to do ‘real good’ in school though she never graduated the 8th grade. I had to quit a Critical Theory class in college because the professor had the same first name as Dead Grandma and I thought that she would be quite offended that she had to share a name with such a fancy lady. Now I overcompensate by
1. enjoying Big Macs,
2. shopping at WalMart,
3. not correcting people on their grammar,
4. going to antique stores to buy vintage plastic dollhouse toilets,
5. cracking my knuckles loudly and unapologetically in public,
6. pissing outside at concert venues when the bathroom line is too long,
7. watching sitcoms that star Kevin James,
8. using a fork when I eat Japanese food,
9. only shopping at Whole Foods when I’m desperate and it’s the only store around,
10. reading one crime novel for every two fancy books I read.

But sometimes when I have guests over I remove Ceramic Miss Piggy Mug from my shelf and replace it with Book by Barthes, which I had been using to prop up a side table.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Reading and Memory


Friends, family, people I’ve loved have always noted my recall ability. Some find it strange, others impressive—interesting—even neurotic. I’ve always had a great memory. I don’t know if it’s all that special. It’s been, to me, born of a repetitive quality I have: to read and reread things for weeks, months at a time; or to remember and re-remember recent and old experiences I’ve had.

During the mornings, I wonder, sometimes, what other people’s morning routines are—if, as soon as they wake up, they check the news, go on social media, roll over and kiss their partner. For me, memory is the thing I always do in the morning. I always go back to the things I’ve been reading, taking in the words for the second, third, fourth time. Or some days I just go out and walk, and think about experiences I can’t forget.

In this cabinet are both of these things: poems I’ve read and reread over and over, and turned into a found poem. And photos from my life: of experiences I always think about.

Doing both of these things—reading and remembering—feels like seeing someone you love after a period of time away, and there’s that small, churning anxiousness you have, wondering what has changed since the last time you saw them. I can’t say that revisiting writing or remembering your life is exactly the same as seeing the person you love; but it feels a lot like it. And so, perhaps, memory is a lot like love.

Poems used: “A Short Story of Falling” by Alice Oswald, “White Dog” by Carl Phillips, “Entrance” by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Essay on Craft” by Ocean Vuong, “To the Dead” by Frank Bidart, “Still Fallng for Her” by Sharon Olds, “Writing ‘Ellen West’” by Frank Bidart, “Didactic Elegy” by Ben Lerner, “Untitled” by Eileen Myles, “Her Birthday as Ashes in Seawater” by Sharon Olds, “Rain Coming In” by John Ashbery, “Custom” by Carl Phillips

A Love Story for Memory

It is the story of falling
to flow green and momentary

If only I could find lifting
rain to release her into:

This is nothing like wanting, losing
Oh, yes, released: I’d understand her better.

She wouldn’t come back, as if
our home was the last home before

the threshold, before the lifting sky.
And no one else could come. Yes

I’d build a cage of eyes, fingers, a throat
—god, I’d be done. I’d be human

I hope I existed—the intricately
dreamed structure that displeases,

disappoints you. This is not wisdom,
or self-pity. Falling for her is

the glimpses of, moments
alone, pen & vocabulary, at the table
I picture her at the edge of a ship
listening to hear anything

Music, rocks falling, my own flesh

Who is she, that thing inside me that has
stored so much—obsessed with my

journey & progress till I reach at last:
my body (hiding, adored, stupid).

She has so thoroughly told me
to feel because I felt. I didn’t

want to but she wanted it lifted
from my mind, the thousand

myriad voices in my head
she incarnated like pajamas without
a body moving down the stairs, collapsing

As towers collapse, this
is the image, repeated, producing anxiety

but she remembers the image, like
works of art the experience is sad

but reveals: hope. But hope
(like a gaze) is the act of violence

not aware of its violence. When I think
about that mess, I think of us, pulled

to the irreducible nothing—
Nothing to grieve, nothing to fear.

Natives of this place made of blood
hair, teeth, meat.

Her and me apart like someone
on this great planet and the truth.

We hang on, in our own infamy
Humility—it’s all we can do.

But this home, to be from and
have people ask about is not

Mere memory. Its love is dramatic,
as it should be. I look for memory

Everywhere, because it is everywhere
to be found. I know, I know better,

And should;—but I call it sacrifice:

the way you look at this poem
so that you can set it free.