The art museum in Seattle
is down the street
from the Pike Place market,
past the fish slingers and folk art
hanging in booths,
beyond the bistros with
red daubs in window boxes.
It faces the Harley Davidson shop,
where leather jackets go in and out.
They call it SAM;
it hunkers near a blue collar laborer
as tall as the Elwah, leaving
the salty piers on the waterfront.
Some days it squats shrouded by fog
and scarcely stirs, even to open its doors;
but the iron giant is always awake,
moving his hammer diligently,
four times a minute,
7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
On grey Tuesdays I drive down 1st
Ave, past SAM, to the Viaduct.
Sometimes a parking place
opens just in front of its doors,
and I seize the moment,
walking to the entrance in the angled rain
bent over as my umbrella handle.
I buy a ticket at the desk inside
and ride the elevator to the 4th floor
where the doors open to the work
of single artists,
each displayed in a tall white walled room.
One drizzling Tuesday
the exhibits were in suitcases:
thrift store finds with stickers
and loose hinges.
Dozens of objects were in each one,
fastened, glued, collaged:
a paper doll and a Barbie torso,
a pressed wrist corsage,
a measuring spoon,
the corner of a puzzle,
a bit of a cursive letter.
I spent thirty minutes
looking in the first one;
its pieces were like people
at a party, stuck in corners
I waited until at last
a slow recognition
began to build;
It came from the place
in each of us that speaks in symbols--
but I understood this:
the artist had discovered that
a train ticket,
a subway token
and an old locket
can sometimes ,
fold and crease time.
The suitcases held fragments
of her dreams,
written on wisps of ether in the dark:
a ride on a Ferris wheel,
a kiss from a whiskered man,
a few red berries in a silver pail.
They were the sum of her unfettered self;
with great courage,
she had gathered the pieces together
until they spoke in unison,
like the roar in a seashell.
Through them parcels of her past
fell apart and together
like a kaleidoscope--
until all times were both present
and far away.
I listened to that exhibit for a long time.
I forgot to buy bread
or pick up the dry cleaning.
Instead, I went home
and climbed up to the attic
looking for an old suitcase.