In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer's Center is spotlighting the work of Poet Lore contributors. This installment includes a brief Q&A with author Marge Piercy about her poem, “Leftovers” (Poet Lore Volume 111, No. 1/2).
|Photo Credit: Ira Wood.|
BY MARGE PIERCY
A jigsaw puzzle of the Grand Canyon
with pieces missing. It has been on her
table at least a year, maybe a decade.
Was she expecting the pieces to return
to her? A fine layer of dust lay on it.
The table itself clean—enough to eat
on, she’d have said. She liked sayings.
They were easy on the tongue.
In the trash, cans of Campbell soup—
chicken noodle, turkey noodle, mushroom,
asparagus. Did she live on soup toward
the end? A beige cardigan folded
over a chair back. Bunny slippers
wait beside the carefully made bed.
A note to herself: pay electric bill,
clean aquarium. Her son, who lives
in Arizona, gave her tropical fish. “I
don’t know why,” she said, “I can’t pet
them, they don’t know me. He hasn’t
been back since.” Many photographs
in silver-plated frames—herself younger,
the two husbands, both on the mantle
now, her live son and the dead one
in uniform. Who will want them now?
We are there and then we aren’t,
our detritus left behind for Good Will
and the dump, unless some still living
friends needs a souvenir or two.
I knew a woman who worked for a bank.
When someone with a trust there died,
she’d clean out that home. “Isn’t it sad?”
I asked. She looked at me. “It’s just a job.”
Jessica Flores: “Leftovers” truly connects with the strange sense of loss that can permeate a space, even if a person does not have a direct connection to the place. The way objects tell the story of the dead owner reflects how fleeting life can be in comparison to how long our stuff can just linger. While the saying, “you can’t take it with you” might be true, it is almost more important what is left behind because the materials that outlive us define our memory. What more does the poem want to say about legacy or grief after death? What was the inspiration for the scene in the poem?
Marge Piercy: The genesis of “Leftovers” was a conversation with an acquaintance who works for the trust division of a Massachusetts bank. The exchange that ends the poem was what she actually said.
That stuck in my mind and I imagined coming into someone’s house or apartment after their death and dealing with the remains of their life. What would the objects say about the person, if the viewer actually were interested? What would our house say about us? So I imagined an elderly woman’s belongings to give a sense of her so she could speak to us. I wanted the reader to end with the sense of how indifferent society is to our deaths if we aren’t a celebrity of some sort. I set out to create a sense of the pathos of a person’s things when they are gone.
Marge Piercy’s nineteenth poetry book, Made in Detroit, was published by Knopf last year. Piercy has written seventeen novels, including, most recently, Sex Wars; PM Press also republished Dance the Eagle to Sleep, Vida, and Braided Lives with new introductions; her first short story collection, The Cost of Lunch, Etc; and, recently, My Life, My Body, a collection of essays, interviews, and poems. Her memoir is Sleeping with Cats (Harper Perennial). For more, visit: www.margepiercy.com.