“A Sestina for the Secondhand” by Marybeth Niederkorn

The shelves are alive with the plaints of forgotten
pieces, once snazzy in moss-green living rooms.
I look and look but do not touch, exclaim over this
ceramic planter, that book-club edition copy, a red
glass piece almost but not quite matching my pattern.
I wonder if my craftsman husband has any need

of this clunky metal mystery tool, but then, “need”
isn’t a word I dwell on too much, in this forgotten
realm of bits and bobs that no longer fit the pattern
of slimmed-down lives with fewer, smaller rooms,
rented, not owned, items homes relationships red
with the inky stains of debt and the unattainable. This

should bother me more. This idea should fester. This
should trouble me, as wants become insatiable needs,
as phones gleam while books gather dust, unread,
as the ways of our frugal forebears fall forgotten,
as we no longer fret over the worries they had, in rooms
echoing with silent cries from babies never born, pattering

feet never falling on floors we don’t keep clean. Patterns
emerge, whether we intend or not, and oh yes, I wanted this,
a life built on pieces salvaged from dead or dying rooms
and distilled into something like a peaceful existence. I needed
to make better decisions in my past to have a family now. Forgotten
wishes litter my memory, dark and ready to draw first blood, red

splashes, cold and cruel in their utter totality, but it’s a red
that I do not think belongs to me, not as I am, not a pattern
drawn in lines I live. Not anymore. I’ve drifted off, forgotten
to yearn for the touch of a person I helped create. Instead, this
house creaks under the collective weight of what we do not need,
what we want, what I have convinced myself to care about. Rooms

I painted to house guests, or babies, or things I do not use. Rooms
hum with potential instead of activity. Rooms accented in red,
a power color, too strong for the walls but in small doses, I need.
I have tried to impose structure, order, on my life, but a pattern
only serves to remind me that chaos is so much stronger than this.
Real life cannot be constricted into—or consigned by—the forgotten.

The patterns become the story if we leave out enough living. The room,
red with sunset light and cold with bare furniture and walls, is this
forgotten place. The pieces aren’t the memories, the wanting not the need.

Marybeth Niederkorn is a poet, author, and award-winning journalist for the Southeast Missourian newspaper, whose work has appeared variously in The Gasconade Review, Trailer Park Quarterly, Red Fez, and others. Her first collection of poetry, Times Knew Roamin’, was published in 2019 by Spartan Press. Educated at Southeast Missouri State University, she holds degrees in philosophy and professional writing. She lives in rural Missouri with her husband.


Image: “Halloween Spirit” by Bobbi LeRae Valentin

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