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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

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Location: Lake Michigan Shoreline, Midwest, United States

By Grace, I'm a follower of Christ; by day, I'm a school administrator; by night (and always) I'm a husband and father (and now a grandfather); and by week's end, I usually find myself writing in this space. Feel free to join in the dialogue.

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 forty 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. 

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. 
till 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… f
or 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. I
t 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. . 

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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 .Tom Kapanka 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 Mrs. Geezerette 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 .Tom Kapanka 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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