Chimera Song Mosaic
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Cleaning off my desk, part 2.

I started yesterday evening. This is a project long in the making. Or rather, the unmaking the bed of papers that is my desk. During the school year, I simply throw writing-related things onto its surfaces: rejection letters; acceptance letters; manuscript contest notifications of winners; inspirational pamphlets (inspiring one to do a number of things—find God, unchain one’s self from the refrigerator, collect art, go to museums—but I find them to simply inspire writing); colored paper clips; photo packets; magazines on disc; printed copies of online articles I have time to search for but not to read. The pile was over a foot tall until I got into it.

But first, I got under it; underneath my desk was a stack of papers from when I first started teaching college 3 1/2 years ago. I didn’t know what to do with the stuff and, as an adjunct, didn’t have an office yet, so I kept it under my “writing” desk at home—the essays, the final exams, everything. Underneath that, I found two briefcases/backpacks that, ultimately, did not do. They were too small or too abrasive. I finally found the right tote bag and have used it ever since. Inside the old leather backpack, I found many pens, red felt-tips, and dry erase markers. What was I saving them for? This has all been purged.

The student things are the next things to go (sorry, students—there’s only so much intrusion into my private life I can take). I spent a little time flipping through them, remembering names, faces I had forgotten, reading a few intros here and there of papers I gave A’s to but now realize must have been plagiarized, smiling at a few funny, charming student errors (“Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are both considered to be ‘congressional’ poets . . .”). But this all has to go. We are required to keep student work for a minimum of one year after the class is over. I plan to recycle all this, white paper only, which means I will have to go through the process of ripping names off the essays (for confidentiality), removing staples, and separating the colored from the non. It is a huge ordeal to process this. Rather than go through this effort, I am tempted to dump it all into my dumpster outside. Sure, someone could find the stuff later, and this might hurt someone’s feelings, but if I shift in one of the old versions of my manuscript, I am just as vulnerable as they are, possibly more.

I don’t remember for the life of me ever having a student named Estefany. But there she is.

I found some interesting things in my desk layers: “cosmic reckoning”; 5-6 largely finished poems that have been hastily scribbled and never reread or typed, which is in violation of my ritual; “bride fabric”; “secret balls”; “‘Chainsaw’ Director Discusses Filmmaking”; “To our many customers ordering Novartis Animal Products”; a final exam from one Valerie Garcia (one of my very first students, who I saw last month in the mall and whose brother, Ruben, was my student for two years, and who now [Valerie] has a masters degree in physical therapy or speech communication or something, and I never knew Valerie and Ruben were siblings. We met in footlocker. She got a 101 on her final); a fortune that is very sinister: “Watch your relations with people carefully, be reserved”(my favorite one ever was: “You are full of ideas and feel that you must express them”); my I.D. tag from AWP, New Orleans, 2002; emails from friends who are almost out of touch, including phone numbers and mailing addresses; “‘Viciousness in the Kitchen’: Sylvia Plath’s Domestic Poetry”; a personal writing exercise beginning: “I used to think that kids who made up stories were freaks”; an envelope full of the last bits of the high-quality paper I printed my thesis on—the envelope has the uncanny label of “Greg Pape”; my complimentary folder from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, 2000 (an approximation of the very one that Brenda Hillman claimed she had written her entire manuscript in from the previous year. Didn’t work for me; I abandoned it); Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision, from the Menil Collection, Houston; a postcard for a free trial issue of Tin House magazine, Escondido, CA; a spiral notebook of uncertain origins I have been writing in for the past 4 years but that has very little “good” poetry in it. Thus, I have finally abandoned it as unlucky with only one last page left; A stapled packet of the clean side of botched printouts, my recycled version of a new notebook titled “My New Book” (scraped this year as unlucky. Last page entry: “contrails, telemetry” and a note on the next page: “deliquescent”); “I can afford the angels; do not quiet them.”

Hence the new move to write on postcards, however small and cramped. I can’t write in a notebook that is filled with trash and deemed unlucky. I can’t force my good poems to kiss my bad ones on the cheek, to acknowledge their relation to those bastards.

I’m going to get back in it. You’ll see. That desk is going to be clean by 6:00 tonight. All my senoritas will be back where I can see them, in the kitchen, with the millions of stars.

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