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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, January 27, 2007


The little boy’s days
passed in unremarkable ways—
but began and ended with his face pressed down
in an old feather pillow
that was remarkable indeed.

Beneath its clean cotton case
was the dark, drool-stained ticking
that told the pillow’s true age
and why on damp days
it held the scent of time
and the dank dreams of others deep inside.

The boy knew only that he liked
the way the pillow held his head.
He was unaware that long ago
on a different bed his great-grandfather
had liked it for the same reason—
not ten, not twenty, but more than
thirty years before—
when it was purchased with a mate.
It was one of what had been a pair for two
‘til death left him to sleep alone.
And then he chose to use the pillow
that was hers and kept his own
on the high hidden shelf
of his corner closet.

By then the ticking had more than aged
—as all old pillows do.
Like a blotter, it was hopelessly imbued
with years of hair tonic,
and hot-night sweat,
and deep-sleep drool,
and toward the end…
the tears he did not touch for fear she'd know.
The pillow was a dark and blotchy parchment,
with all the variegated circle stains
of paper peeling from a mildewed wall.

(All this was hidden by the flannel case
that each night touched the little boy's face.)

Such an ancient, ugly sack of feathers
would never be deliberately given or received;
it would never be offered to a guest
or sold at a sale. For who would want to use it?

But life is full of things still kept
well past their being wanted,

and this was true of the old pillow
before it was the boy’s.

Just how the thing came to him
the boy would never know.
One morning he woke up and it was there.
He liked the way it slept;
he liked the way it kept the form
of his face even as he rose
to look back down at where he’d been.
He liked the dreams of flying
that it brought that first night
(and would bring for years to come).

But what happened was:
The day before the pillow came,
his family spent a warm fall day
at his Grandma’s.

Her house sat on the corner
of Forest and Riverview,
a tired tract of broken streets
and pocked and painted clapboard walls
with faded-curtain windows
and front-porch steps that stretched
toward the narrow walk
of broken concrete slabs that rolled unevenly
(like dominoes laid across a lawn),
heaved ever higher over time by the roots
of chestnut trees that lined the way,
their shade the only remnant of the better days
the neighborhood had seen.

(The boy did not know the house, in fact,
was and always had been
his great-grandfather’s
whose daughter (the boy's grandma)
and her husband moved in with
when hard times called them home.
So long before that now it seemed
Great Grandpa was the guest,
and those who knew the difference never said.)

To the boy it was simply Grandma’s house,
and for his siblings and cousins
it was a magic place to be.
There they were allowed to walk
without grown-ups to the tiny corner store
for ten cents worth of long paper strips
with countless, clinging candy bumps
in pastel rows for nibbling off like mice.
Turning back toward the house
(and passing it a short block the other way),
they went to the park to play
and roll down grassy hills
'til someone called them home.

After all that and more that day…
the little boy was sitting on the front porch
listening to the melody of older voices
talking in the dark...
and fell asleep
right there on the gray painted planks.
They laughed when they saw him
lying in the glow of the dresser lamp
beyond the front bedroom window.
His great grandfather slipped away
(to that lamp-lit room inside)
and came out with a pillow
that had been out of sight and mind for years.
“Here. Put this under his head at least.”
They laughed again.
The pillow had no case, but in the dark,
its age spots went unnoticed.

When it was time to go,
the pillow floated with him
in his father's arms
from the old house to the car
and once at home up to his bed—
all without the glare of light—
and through it all the boy was
dead to the world as only children sleep.

From then on, the pillow was the boy's to keep
(not that anyone but a four-year-old
would claim it as his own).
But even more remarkable is
that this heavy feather pillow remained
with him for more than twenty years—
(equaling the first half of its use).

It was on his bed when…
they moved from the country to the city;
still there through grade school;
still there when his little brother was born;
still there when he did paper routes at dawn.
still there when they built the barn
and house on worn-out Saturdays.

It went with him to summer camps
and road-trips far away
and eventually...
to college covered in a starchy new case.
There at night it was a touch of home
and brought him sleep
through love and loss and learning, too.
But what he never knew…
for no one ever does…
is that the pillow held and shared forgotten dreams
and kept him close to the past
and to things forever passing
and to those who gave them meaning.

Even when he married
the pillow was still kept
with no more thought
than had been given through the years.
But marriage is a time
for good and new and matching things,
and not for the inexplicable artifacts of life—
like this the nastiest pillow ever seen
that for decades avoided scrutiny
but whose sudden unsightliness
leapt out each time
they changed the sheets.
It was highly recommended not to keep—
and actually brought the man
a laugh in letting go—
that day the pillow passed
in some unremarkable way
like all the unremarkable days
it had absorbed.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice story. I know of a girl that has a blanket and bear that she will have to give up soon because she is getting married.

27/1/07 5:18 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

This is why I often avoid writing poetry. I simply cannot write it as well as others. "Kept" is well crafted and nicely paced; I was interested throughout and wanted to know if the boy's "binky" would always be there for him.

28/1/07 6:00 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

ANON. and Jim,
I never thought of it that way, but I guess the "ficticious" little boy's pillow did serve a similar purpose (disguised as something everyone uses.)
BYW, this verse is not fully biographical, but I do sleep on a feather pillow to this day.
ANON, thanks for commenting. There's a post in November you need to read (It was to you.)

28/1/07 6:17 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Your poem about the kept pillow reminded me of this morning when my husband and I were packing for our Florida trip. We are driving the distance staying in motels along the way with pillows that probably won't suit us. So, we decided to pack our own pillows. We each have our own pillow. They happen to be feather pillows, too. Tonight when I opened the bag in which we had packed our two pillows and removed them, my husband's pleasant scent filled the air. Immediately I thought about how our son's room would take on his particular scent, also pleasant, whenever he had been home from college for a weekend. Sometimes when I missed our son after he left to return to school, I would go into his bedroom and soak up his scent.

Speaking of kept things that eventually get discarded, when my mother was alive she had a curio cabinet that was full of little figurines and so on. Each item meant something special to her. Even though I don't know what each item meant to her, I wish I could preserve all of them in honor of her. But I know that eventually these items which held such meaning for my mother will fall into the hands of someone for which they have no meaning and these items will be discarded then.

28/1/07 11:13 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I struggle with the same thoughts. I love the stories behind things. It's why estate sales are so sad to me, like boxes of family photos that no one can explain.
That's the power of story... connecting the gap between "things kept" and "those who give them meaning." Thank you for understanding this slightly "odd" piece. I wrote it a month ago, but it struck me as a little strange until I read it again Saturday.
It began accidentally from the opening line of a story I was trying to write called “Four in Corduroy,” which I hope you’ll read here someday.

28/1/07 11:38 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Your words are powerful... I appreciate the fact that you share them here. Your posts often stir up forgotten memories in my old brain and for that I thank you. You were a blessing to me today!

30/1/07 10:11 PM  

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