The Persistence of Symptoms

During the short sale I moved my desk toward Charlie’s 
so that every day, when we came back from work,

he could say, It’s not even your house, to my face 

when I’d fret, I can’t lose another thing. 

Most of what I owned was slopped in return boxes 
from other states and when I visited home 

I complained about how I ever slept on that twin, 

how my father couldn’t even dust the Venetian blinds 

once in a while. It was the sixth or seventh house 
I’d lived in, and not even one I’d say I grew up in

—I’d say the neighbors maybe found us eccentric 

with the trellis heavied by wind chimes and roots invading 

the porch’s foundation—so he was right 
to put the noise cancelling headphones I gave him 

back on while I agitated the sink. But it was our house 

for a while, the lawn tended, the gnomes in a collection,

and before I used it as storage, I worried in it 
about changing the motion sensors and whether 

the leaky faucet was drowning the persimmon tree 

my late grandmother and late beagle loved. 

Charlie replied always with concern 
about my Googling old addresses again. 

No one hated sentimentality more than I, 

but when I flew back to consolidate my boxes, 

I didn’t know where to start. 
Crayons, a below-zero sleeping bag, so many albums 

of things I couldn’t place. My things and what were 

not my things. I circled trash bags around me 

in the garage and tuned the radio in tears. 
Just like that, it was for weeks. Inspecting frames, 

books, dishes—separating what was not broken from 

what was, dumping when I knew the difference. 

Copyright © 2019 Janine Joseph. This poem was originally published in Quarterly West. Used with permission of the author.