A porch is a place of surveillance. One does nothing; one watches. Sometimes I survey my street, but mostly I survey my things.
When I look at my porch, I think that I have seen this porch before. In glossy travel magazines. In coffee table books.
A porch is a collection of predictable objects. You’re supposed to start with a porch swing. I don’t have a porch swing. When I moved into my house, there was one out here, hanging, but the wood was rotten, and the chains were rusted, so I took it down and lay it by the trash on the side of the house. I don’t miss it. A porch swing is not a comfortable thing. You’re forced upright, the wood hard against your back, and then there is the rocking, back and forth. Such instability.
I selected certain things to live on my porch.
It was a careful process, and sometimes I put things out there and thought about it for an hour, or a day, and then brought them back inside and stuffed them in a closet or a drawer.Sometimes they were not right; they seemed to push back against the universe. But then other things were right, and they knew that they should be out there on the porch, in the night air, and they tucked themselves into this world and stayed there.
There are lots of things. Some things are useful, like my fly swatter (a brown leather flap attached to a wooden handle, slightly S&M-esque) and my broom. The broom feels substantial in my hands, like it’s real. I like the sound of the swishing of the bristles on the wood floor. When it rains, the wind tosses leaves up on my porch, and then I try to sweep them up when they’re still wet, and they get stuck in the bristles.
Many things are not useful. It’s impossible to take an inventory. Two pots of rosemary (one terracotta, one Chinoiserie), a plastic fan that proclaims Puerto Rico! (from a souvenir shop in Old San Juan), a serving tray painted with red roses, a carved wooden bear (purchased on a country road in Texas), a porcelain elephant stool named Denys Finch Hatton, a portable radio, an iron dinner bell hanging from a hook, a bird-feeder (empty, also hanging from a hook), three lanterns with candles in them, a red flamenco shawl, an ashtray (just because it is pretty – orange and gold), a throw pillow embroidered with a seabird, an afghan (for when it is cold), stacks of books (some poetry and some prose, all faded from the sun, the covers warped), an iron ladybug door knocker (not on a door, just on the table), a stack of tiles (to be used as coasters, in theory), and a blue frog figurine. Old coffee cans in which I will plant flowers in the spring.
When my dog sits on the porch, she is another object, motionless.
Sometimes I leave my Dollywood coffee mug out on the porch. My name is printed on it in bold black letters, and below my name is Dolly herself (red lips, painted eyes, yellow hair) and images that stand for Tennessee: a grist mill, a white clapboard church, a locomotive. I learn from this mug that Tennessee has green mountains. And bears. It is a place of woods. I have a carved coconut my sister brought back from Hawaii. He has a face; he is a person. And he is a bank, ready to hold my spare change, but I’ve left him empty. I think he is an angry little god. Or maybe he is a totem, and he knows this is his porch.
I had a snow globe of Paris, but the cold shattered it. I bought it in a snowstorm, when I was there (in the real place), and I turned it over in my gloved hand as I walked away from the souvenir booth on the river. But the snow globe shattered here in the cold, here in its new home. I found the shards of glass everywhere, little white pieces of fake snow fuzz clinging to them. The water had evaporated. A snow globe looks strange without its snowy sphere: it’s just the buildings on a little base, out there in the open, unprotected.
I have three large mason jars filled with shells. I collected these shells so I would remember where I was. I walked along the beach and thought: these will make me remember. Now I can’t remember. But I know they stand for something lost, and I look at them, all in a jumble – some coral in there, too – and I try to place them in the past. On a beach somewhere.
I sit on my porch, and I wonder where that beach was.