hand reaching for shelf
Image credit: Joymae Capps
Poetry Lit

A Conversation Piece

How can nothing generate a conversation?
    The emptiness of it all
    The startling emptiness of nothing
An unfilled shelf outshines all those filled in our wall of shelves in our living room
Two filled with books
    Showy coffee table books
    Books of architecture, art, biology, nature, oceans
    my Master’s thesis and Doctoral dissertation
Filling 6 other shelves are treasured mementos of our travels
A sweet grass basket from South Carolina, sharing the shelf with a painting of the black hands that wove it
Baskets from the Amazon, along with etched gourds, and a sculpted bird made from the seed of a native tree carved by the indigenous person who took us piranha fishing
Baskets and dolls from Copper Canyon, bought from Tarahumara women who lived down a canyon where we hiked
Baskets from South Africa and bowls of wood from Zimbabwe
Baskets from Czechoslovakia bought from a surly woman whom I deemed unhappy living in a
    Communist world; these are flanked by a painted pitcher brought home later by my son after his study abroad after the Velvet Revolution in the friendlier Czech Republic, the nation of our ancestors
A fish sculpture made of blown glass from the famous Moser Glassworks in the Czech Republic
From Mexico
    A beaded jaguar head of the Huichols of Jalisco
    An onyx mask of the Zapotecs from Oaxaca
    A wooden mask of the Mayans from Cancun and Quintana Roo
    A ceramic Katrina, haunting us with her Day of the Dead look
    And of wood, from Oaxaca, a howling coyote and a crouching cat
    An artisan wooden bowl bought from the artist who made it in Baja
A mask from Puerto Rico, made from a coconut shell, with three horns sprouting from the
    head, showing the voodoo influence
A mask made of hefty ironwood from New Caledonia
A mask of a deer head, red tongue hanging out from its orange head, from the Mayans in Guatemala
A painting of a Peruvian Incan woman harvesting grain
A bowl made from orange beads, a gift from our Kenyan daughter-in-law after her trip home to
    Nairobi
A carved gourd, made by a local Oregonian, painted bright red

And yet, it is the empty shelf that draws the eye,
It pulls you in, making you wonder about space, about emptiness
And too, perhaps, making you wonder about stuff, and filling our world.
My cavalier cousin, on seeing the emptiness, started to make a suggestion as to how I might
    fill it. I stopped her before I could hear her idea. I wanted her to contemplate the
    emptiness, rather than fill it.

And what of the empty shelf?
    A future adventure?
    `     A desire to have space?
    A statement about stuff?
What does it want from me?
    Shall I fill it?

Erleen Whitney, Ph.D
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Erleen Whitney, Ph.D., is a retired biology professor who cares about nature everywhere, in her backyard or in her travels. Interests in nature and travel trigger thoughts about the future of our world and trigger thoughts of poetry.