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The Things We Keep

The sun half filtering into the alley shimmers my breathsteam as I push
through the back door of my Chicago apartment building.

A man leans into the industrial trash bin and sifts through. He pulls out
metal and plastic and adds them to his already heaping, well-organized,
shopping cart.

Cans, glass, plastic, and, curiously, a small collection of costume jewelry,
all separated meticulously by color or type into the grocery bags, some
tied and hanging from the metal wires.

                                                               What time did he start work this morning?

In Minnesota my uncles chuck 40+ years worth of rotted wood,
metal scraps and carpet cuttings into a dumpster. They prep
for the retirement move.

The two-car garage once packed so tight, the car grazed two old sawhorses
on the right and on the left the chest freezer’s dinged with black from
Grandma’s car door.

                                          Tato, my grandpa, cannot watch as the uncles make the decisions he can’t.

A— and I stay up late on the phone lamenting all the things of which
we need to let go. She cleans and makes piles while I babble on and on about

She reports the contents of her bathroom:

baking soda
bar soap (handmade)
lotion (handmade)
castile soap
three towels
three washcloths
too powder (homemade)
a few bits of makeup (just in case)

                                                                             This is all.

Fantasies of living location-independent keep me working
and reworking my packable wardrobe:

two pair cotton trousers
one pair joggers
two pair leggings
one pair jeans
black dress
shawl wrap
two collared shirts
two tanks
two teeshirts
two long-sleeve shirts
one sweater
one all-weather jacket
ballet flats
canvas sneakers
quick-dry underwear
Smart Wool socks.

working out the primary question: what is the most
versatile, quick-drying, easy to clean, wrinkle-free wardrobe possible?

I sell two utility shelves, leave a piece of 60-inch plywood in the alley, give
my sofa-bed to a friend, donate as much as I can cart to the thrift store, sell

as many books as online bookstores take, and give a full cart +
the cart to a neighbor I meet just days before I leave – including my plant,
Carl. What’s left of my life I pack into two Prius trips headed for home.

                                                                           Who am I trying to shed?

Looking for a sanding block in Tato’s new garage, I find eleven hand-saws
neatly piled on a shelf. They look to me a similar size and style, but
what do I know of the nuance of saws?

Some rusty, all a bit weathered, as if every time he needed a saw, like my mother
picking up mustard every time she makes sloppy joes, he bought one rather than
looking through the rubbish.

I ask him, and he laughs. He says he needs them all, they’re all for different things.

                                                                         Who is he trying to hold on to?

There’s a man standing on Monroe between State and Wabash, nearer
the road than the buildings. Standing and staring.

His matted dreads grow near his waist.

His shoes flap open when he does finally walk and the back of his pants
gape from a tear that shows his ashen skin from calf to thigh; I watched that tear grow.

What are the things this man keeps? A family photo, a letter, a memory
of his first kiss, a place to lay his head at night,

                                                                                   love, love, love?

Libby Walkup writes from the north woods of Minnesota. Subscribe to her newsletter at Northwoods Recorder, join her at Medium, and/or buy her a coffee if you want to see more.

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