As this country embraces more and more computer-based programs and devices that register and maintain personal information about all of us, I find myself thinking about privacy rights. Recently I heard a program on MPR about how much more seriously such rights are taken in European countries than this one. As I pondered this fact, I thought about the difference in ages of North America and France or Italy or Germany. Their collective memories are so much older than ours, which means they’ve witnessed and paid the price of invasions of privacy more often. Maybe we are just too excited by new shiny objects like glasses that can tell us how fast our heart is beating.
But surely anyone who has had their home robbed feels acutely just how invaded a person can feel. Many years ago, I had gone to my professional meeting, always held right after Christmas. My then lover had volunteered to go to my house twice a day to feed my kitty, so I thought all was well. As I exited a taxi at my front door, I saw her standing just inside it, looking distinctly worried. Her first words were “Toni, you’ve been robbed.” Initially I was just relieved that my companion animal was safe, but when I went through the living room, up the stairs, and into my bed room, a feeling of fear engulfed me and stayed with me for weeks. When I’d get home from work, I’d look under my bed and inside all closets, go down the basement steps with a flashlight, and still feel unsafe and like I needed to take extra showers.
Finally, I decided to write a poem and see if that might help. It did. I was finally able to go back to feeling safe in my story-and-a-half “nest.” Recently I came upon that old poem and was propelled right back to that overwhelming sense of dis-ease and uncenteredness, so I decided to revise my lines and share them here.
6 charms and 8 scarabs
strung on golden wires,
links I wear around my wrist,
part of my circumference–
ripped away by giant hands
that leave an acrid stench all through my space
8 records of a woman playing Chopin
in themselves irreplaceable–
a gift from my mother at 15
a mantle cleaner than I left it,
minus a bronze bull fighter statuette–
a gift from my sister at 35
My bed was handled, pillow thrown askew,
naked with no case.
That case now holds droppings from my life
stolen from pockets of my rooms;
seen without permission,
lost without recourse