Wednesday, February 22, 2023

the state of my desk :


The stacks upon my desk are perpetual, with layerings of books, chapbooks, journals, unread newspapers, manuscript pages, correspondence and other ephemeral literary sediment across weeks, months and even years, depending on how far down one might attempt to excavate.

The desk itself is handed-down, inherited from Christine’s brother Michael when we took over his apartment on McLeod Street, back in 2011. I had an office that sat above a maple that turned orange and red in the autumn, a neighbour’s backyard skating rink for an array of grandchildren. Two years later, we transported the desk and all else here to Alta Vista, where it has remained. It is strange to think of this as only my third writing desk across fifty-some years. This replaced a 1980s particleboard IKEA structure that my parents picked up during my high school days, a desk scuffed and loosened with every move across a variety of Ottawa neighbourhoods and living situations, from the original homestead to Ottawa’s Heron Road and Flora Street, Pretoria Avenue to Fifth Avenue, Rochester Street to Somerset Street West. By the end, the desk was barely holding together, and Michael’s offer was as good a reason as any to let it, finally, go. Upon leaving my eleven years of terrible one-room apartment along that stretch of street-level Chinatown, that old desk was one of a number of items dismantled, pulled apart and left at the curb. Where any of it ended up next became a story for someone else.

My original desk, of course, handmade and handpainted white by my father, a desk with Mickey Mouse stickers on either side, gifted around the time I was five. The desk sat in the upstairs hall of the farmhouse, by the north-facing window. I remember preschool afternoons watching the rain as I sat and worked on my colouring, or flipped through my Dr. Seuss volumes, gifted from one of my grandmothers as a monthly subscription. The books sat on the desk, along with crayons and coloured paper. I suspect the desk was eventually inherited by my younger sister, although I have no further recollection of it. I haven’t even a photograph.

This current desk, now a dozen years benenth my fingertips, is entirely straightforward: black wood and solid with three sides, no drawer. I’ve slipped smaller shelving beneath for files, outgoing correspondence, comic books and other items to be close-at-hand. A plastic milk crate on its side to my left, to hold letters, postcards, scraps and other detritus. My lamp and Lego figures atop, along with a cow-shaped Holstein award retrieved from the top of my father’s desk as we dismantled the house, an award presented him in 1954, most likely as part of his 4-H club membership. A stack of trade comics underneath to the right, just by a tin garbage can I’ve had since before I can recall, set in my homestead bedroom before I landed, thus becoming one of my touchstones. It is strange, the things we decide to carry with us as we go. Sometimes we get to choose, and other times, less so.

I can’t remember the last time I cleared off this particular desk, although I might have attempted a fraction of such last year, when the new printer landed. It took a whole day, and the box of books set aside still sits where it lay. Papers and manuscripts and books and journals and chapbooks replenish like lichen, or morning glory. I marvel at the outcrop. I hack at the runners.

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