I become things. Today I become a staple stuck in a telephone pole, chewing its corner of paper. Tastes like missing puppy flier, honeyed with a crust of sadness. Not like the bitter root of ads for the neighborhood watch. Or the starchy invitation to a show by The Grateful Dead cover band (The Hateful Bread). Or the acid bile of a recall petition.
So I’m thankful, and fed. A lot of my fellow staples are hungry, rusty. They can only chew on the sea-softened wood of the telephone pole. It tastes old and moldy. They like to rehash the old times, when there were fewer of them, when they held pages with gravitas, printed on real card stock. Some of us newer folk, still with a silver glint, accuse them of telling tall tales. Nothing in the past is ever as glorious as it seems. Some of them probably held ads for dubious medical experiments. Some of them advertised rapists running for office. We know, but they won’t admit it. They grit their metal teeth into the splinters and go mum, whisper amongst themselves. Those of us with little bits of paper left let the flags fly in the wind to cover up their noise. It’s impossible not to get political sometimes.
There are times we’re unified, though. Like last week, when we lost not one but two of our comrades; it hit the community hard. One finally succumbed to the rot of the elements, just couldn’t hold on any longer. She silently lost grip and fell when most of us were asleep; I dreamt the tinkle of her hitting the pavement. The other, though, I witnessed. The whole event, scorched into our collective conscience. Some bored teenager waiting at the bus stop in the rain, I couldn’t totally blame him, but he cuddled up to the pole in an attempt to escape the wind. All fine at first until someone accidentally snagged a thread of his hair, and when he moved his head to avoid blinding headlights, his hair was pulled out at the root. His face took on a look of monster metal, like the mangled car wrecks told of in folklore. He grabbed a staple—not even the culprit!—with thumb and forefinger and methodically wriggled them back and forth in the wood. I can still hear the pole flaking away, the quiet tension as the boy worked the staple out. The wrenching sound of body leaving the safety of home. And then, he just flicked them into the road, like litter, like nothing. A couple minutes later, the bus arrived and the offender was gone, but we were left reeling. Haunted by the spectre of wet hoodies, checkered shoes. Some staples are barely hanging on; their unalloyed grief has loosened their ability to be embedded. We hope they’ll rebound, but it’s not looking good.
Selfishly, I’m grateful. Not being among the fallen. Having sustenance. Facing west, I get more of the fog rolling in from the beach, so I know time will come for me sooner than some. The rust and salt are already doing their work. My bony corners have lost their sheen. But I also get to see so much. The red-tailed hawk watching for gophers from the top of our pole. The shiny innocence of a new staple joining the crew, their advert still intact. And every evening the sky comes alive in colors reminiscent of my favorite papers: goldenrod, canary, persimmon.
Quinn Rennerfeldt is a queer poet, parent, and partner earning her MFA at San Francisco State University. Their heart is equally wed to the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. Her work can be found in Cleaver, Mom Egg Review, SAND, elsewhere, and is forthcoming in A Velvet Giant and Salamander. They are the recipient of the 2022 Harold Taylor Prize, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Her chapbook Sea Glass Catastrophe was released in 2020 by Francis House Press. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Fourteen Hills, a graduate-run literary journal with SFSU.