Awash in endless choices, and an endless array of stuff, we long winnow through our closets and curate our possessions, keeping only those things that spark joy in us. But what about the things that teach us how to empathize and listen?
Poets, not organizers, prove to be the best guides to this. In Edward Dougherty’s collection, Everyday Objects, a trip to the mall is a sentimental education. Common household items confess their secret longings, proving to be just as vain and vulnerable as we are.
At a clothier, “All those zippers and snaps argue about God to justify their own existence.”
Other products nurture hope for a better life. “At the cooking store, plastic food containers reveal their aspirations.” They dream “of taking center stage, but instead are stuck in this dead end job.”
At a fabric shop, there are “tiers of homeless buttons…too pitiful to even look at” and at the Bath and Body boutique, we eavesdrop on “prostitute lotions” who are “longing to settle down some day.”
Even the most household objects can have lofty goals. Consider the longings that Dougherty suggests, run like electric current through the mind of an extension cord, in his poem, The Romantic Quest:
that buzz and whir in their quest
for sweetness, the extension cord
is on a romantic search for beauty
It quietly crackles
when connecting that surge,
filled in an instant with
an awareness: the burning oneness
of it all, and here I am
one small part, a loop
in the great coil, a type
for the universe itself.
But in idle moments, wrapped
In an orderly circle or jumbled
At the bottom of the closet,
All electricity gone,
the extension cord is stunned
by doubts, a flock of Yes
but’s. It’s not enough to have
the experience and savor it,
it wants the meaning, too.