[Please explain]

Janine Joseph


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.


Janine Joseph was born in the Philippines. She is the author of Driving without a License, winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize and 2018 da Vinci Eye Award, finalist for the 2017 Oklahoma Book Award, and named an Honorable Mention for the 2018 Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize from the New England Poetry Club. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, World Literature Today, The Poem’s Country: Place & Poetic Practice, The Kenyon Review, Best New Poets, Best American Experimental Writing, Zócalo Public Square, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. A librettist, her commissioned work for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco include What Wings They Were: The Case of Emeline, “On This Muddy Water”: Voices from the Houston Ship Channel, and From My Mother's Mother. She lives in Stillwater, where she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University.