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From bobby pins to snails, a look at the marvels of everyday things


Bobby Pins

The man who invented them adored his mother and, later, his wife. The proof is in the hours he devoted to preventing the hair pin from scratching the scalp. After many experiments with the family’s St. Bernard, he came up with plastic polyps, the size of the head of an ant, to cover the tips. Run your finger over them to see how finely they fulfill their purpose. What ingenuity, what premeditated care! He’d be the first to admit bobby pins are dull and unattractive. Still, he had an eye for beauty. Look at what they do — expose a woman’s neck, modestly reveal the delectable whorl of an ear. They’re responsible for that intimate command, “Let down your hair.” After, at least one of them goes missing. When it’s found days later under the bed or inside the pillow slip, it carries love’s rusted lustre, that small ache.

Coffee Pot

Perfect weapon in a fight. Once, during a literary festival in Vancouver, a famous Scottish poet cracked a coffee pot on her husband’s head. Thank goodness the coffee wasn’t hot. Nevertheless, he flew home to Glasgow the next day, four stitches spidering widow’s peak to eyebrow. The coffee pot hadn’t caused the argument. It was simply close at hand. Most would agree, however, on its appropriateness. No other object in the kitchen can evoke such outrage. Who left that last burned inch in the bottom and didn’t bother making another pot? You’d rather scoop out the litter box with bare hands than empty the filter one more time and rinse it clean. This makes no sense, but that’s the way of it. The person who poured the last cup and walked away destroyed a marriage, brought down a convent, drove the ancients from their household shrines, leaving the kitchen godless and unblessed.

Knife

A knife is always thirsty. It prefers blood oranges to apples, rare beef above all else. You could say it has no gift for the gab. In conversation, it sticks to a point that never changes. It bores the shine off its sidekicks. Its straight edge rebukes the roundness of the spoon. Some say it’s not guns that kill, it’s people. Those who know knives insist it’s the knife. If there’s a carving knife lying by a platter that swells with a steaming turkey, the most domestic family man will seize it and hack the bird to pieces. Borges, who knew the streets of Buenos Aires, claims the knife is not to blame. Like the scorpion, it can’t change its nature. Some knives are so keenly beautiful they are passed through generations. You can trace their history: the thievery and jealous rage, the quick thrust into the gut and up that spills the viscera of a nation. A knife owes fealty to no one. A small blade, tucked in a sleeve, may turn on its owner. Sometimes it inspires greatness. Shakespeare ran his tongue along a dagger’s cutting edge and bled a little. Without it, we wouldn’t have Macbeth.

Lamp

Of all the rooms in the house, the lamp fancies the library. On the pages of the open book, it illuminates invisible cities, the corner of the mind where Iago waits with a whip of words, the flanks of the wolf hunter’s horse a Blackfoot boy is about to steal in the Cypress Hills. If there’s no library, the lamp prefers the bedroom. It spills its lumen on a woman’s hair, warms the bareness of her shoulders as she bends toward a mirror to close the clasp on a string of pearls, each one iridescent, light-licked. Turned off, the lamp bides its time, waits through the mornings and the warm afternoons for someone to flick the switch that manifests the first let there be. Because it lives indoors, it has a nostalgia for the days when lamplighters attended to the tall lanterns in the streets, the snow falling, the yellow pools cast by the burning oil more beautiful for all the dark and cold around them. Then, anyone out walking could see the lamps light up in the sky high above, on every planet in the galaxy a woman fastening a string of tiny moons around her neck; on every star, someone reading.

Snail

It sails without sails in the garden, so slow, if it were a ship, there’d be no wind. Enough has been said about the house it carries on its back. You’re charmed by its eyes on stilts, little periscopes of sight it can pull into its soft body. Its slime is a gift, a viscous track laid under its belly. The snail’s not made of blubber but it looks like fat trimmed from a pork chop, or a dollop of lard squeezed from a pastry tube. You could go on about its constitution — it’s still moving past — but you’ve yet to speak about the horns that rival its eyes for the pleasure they give you. Not meant for fighting, without points or velvet, they tap the air as delicately as the buds of fingers touching the inner walls of the womb. And they glisten, as if licked by something as small as a chickadee’s tongue.

From The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things © 2012, by Lorna Crozier. Published by Greystone Books, an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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