May 18, 2010

An Old Curiosity

Written by Matthew Nienow

Read by Bethany Tyler Lee

Red would want to walk along Fisherman’s Wharf
and recall the first time he had seen the shrunken heads
in the back of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, and seeing them again,
would gather up the years between like discarded clothes
in need of washing and wonder aloud how a head
once so full of seeing, how a mouth that had tasted
the finest meat or the sweetest words, how the caves
of the ears could be reduced to a state of dried fruit
and locked in a glass case. He loved to know
what of a body could last, his own body seeming intent
on disappearance — our great grandfather
having known nearly a century before us —
we listened with wonder and skepticism, nodding
as he talked of a silver ferry called Kalakala,
thinking only to appease him but thinking also
that his mind had become lost on the way
to his tongue. After all he was 97, and soon shriveled
into sleep, and was placed in a case of earth
and only then did we find the silver ferry come back
from Alaska, docked in Lake Union, where he had first seen it,
and his curiosity became ours to tell — in a story where
we return like king salmon to the tacky aisles of souvenirs,
not being able to resist a known origin, a glass case
like a silvered pool, where, when we bend down expecting
to see the faces of the long dead, we see our own.