The top shelf of my bookcase contains titles by Camus, Dostoyevsky, and Jane Austen. Occasionally I think about organization, especially of my poetry volumes, but any progress in that direction seems to happen a book or two at a time. If asked to fetch a certain title I likely know where it might be found. Isn’t that organization of a kind? Memory.
Over the last decade the popularity of vinyl clings among Mormon women has made the business lucrative. I admit to being sucked in, if only in small measure. These clings are often affixed to ceramic tiles bearing inspirational thoughts, quotes, and scripture to serve as decorative kitsch in the stylish home. I wouldn’t classify my home as stylish, and I don’t subscribe to collecting kitsch, but I am guilty nonetheless for ownership of two such tiles. One of these, a 6”x6” square the color of dry oats, rests against the left corner of the shelf in front of the books. The vinyl lettering “I am a child of God” is written in Segoe Print, a font popular in 2008. This phrase is iconic in Mormonism, doctrinally meant in the literal sense, and clung like vinyl to the minds of children ages 3-12 through song, wearable trinkets, and tiles sent home to decorate their bedside tables. My three oldest children each brought one from their respective Sunday School classes. I have only this single tile left. I discarded the other two, although I couldn’t say when. We’ve moved five times since 2008. My kids never showed interested in these religious tokens at all. This single relic of my religious upbringing and theirs isn’t meant to serve as a reminder of what we’ve left behind. I kept it as its meaning changed over a decade to something more inclusive of my place in the universe. Pantheist, it’s called. Not only am I a product of the divine, I am a part of the divine whole. I have sprung from what already was. I subsist on what is. I will become what is to be. Eternal life. And here I am conscious of myself as facet to the magnificence that is all. And it is a reminder of the tradition that produced me. I’m conflicted by my retention of this tile. It reminds me of my children when they were small. It reminds me of my struggle to teach them their place in the circle of charity. It is tacky, and yet I allow it to remain.
The rest of the decorative items on this top shelf are all naturally occurring fragments of life come and gone. The vacated nest of some buzzing colony, the width of my hand. Dozens upon dozens of hexagonal walls formed of chewed wood. Paper before Cia Lun began his craft in second century China. How many wasps does it take to build such an intricate structure? How many were born from each cell? How lucky was I to find this abandoned palace? Beside it, acorn caps. And on the opposite corner, a handful of oaknuts; a supported cupped nest the maker of which I am unable to identify; the eggshell of some finch, or robin, or starling found independently of the nest; a lump of raw coal I collected from the switch yard; and the porous finger bone of a dead Cholla branch. The shard of slate tucked neatly into this grouping has two or three stories of its own. Rocks are like that. Like children of God, they originate as magma or sediment. They rise up through the crust of the earth which was the generation before them. They are forced heavenward, and then violently assemble and dissemble like a stack of playing cards. We call this game orogeny: mountain building. And each of my precious rocks, although each rock is precious, fit a role in that drama until I placed them in my pocket and brought them home to my shelves.
My shelves hold volumes. Stories, some a millennia in the making. Some only a season. All children of God.