Patricia Valdata



The soil here is full of shells,
whole neighborhoods built on calcium fill.

When we moved here, as I opened
each brown box, I found more: jars full,

from both coasts of Florida, all
the Jersey beaches of my childhood.

Who were these angelwings, cowries, cockles,
moonshells, oysters, whelks?

Common-as-dirt on my desk, a clamshell
holds paper clips in its purple bowl,

this skeleton shaped so differently from my own.



It happens when a pink-rumped

          piggy bank next to a jar of

                                     Anti Monkey Butt


                    bumps against a lump

          of purple Play-Doh


                                     up to a copy of Plato,

                    a rusted-out sump pump

          motor sprawls atop

a plastic straw boater

          where a clump of barbed wire overruns

                                                              a CD of Car Talk’s

          “Stump the Chump”

                    as an umpire’s padded vest unstuffs


          all over a sprung snare


then you come

                                                              to a dumb-
          waiter pulley

                                     tangled in some

                    faded photos of rooks and choughs

          before tripping

on a plumber’s snake

                    draped across velvet curtain swags

whose design reminds you of the kerchief

                    your mother put on

          along with faux-leather

                                                              and a tweed coat,
when she left you alone

          to watch

                    at the bedroom window

while she


          down the row-house block

                    and you had

                                                                         no idea

                                     this time

          if she was ever

coming back



Back when our choices were white or rye,
my father rose pre-dawn to load his truck.
He left fresh loaves on cold back porches,
flirted with housewives, collected their orders,
showed them my school pictures every year.
Once, when I was in Middlesex Hospital,
a customer whose name I didn’t know
gave me a rag doll with a quilted coat.
Then, when supermarket chains killed
home delivery, dad drove his truck
to A&P and Acme’s loading docks.
He made his daily quota with no joy,
missing the gossip that would leaven
the miles of route he drove each week.

By then I was in high school. At bedtime,
I made the next day’s sandwich for my dad.
I spread the mayo evenly, crust to crust,
precisely lining up salami slices,
iceberg lettuce, white American cheese.
I added a folded napkin and slice of cake,
placing the small brown bag inside the fridge
for Dad to grab when he left at three a.m.
Twelve hours later, while he dozed,
half waking every time the Yankees scored
a run, I’d open him a Ballantine,
eager to hear, during a commercial,
whether he liked the lunch I made for him,
made, as always, from a leftover loaf.