An Excerpt from Griefing on Summit by Joseph Harrington


To be is to be an archive.

                    -Susan M. Schultz







“our southern accent, which got everybody all upset. I used to say ‘I can’t hep it!’ you see – ‘I can’t hep it!’ And they’d laugh at me and laugh at me. And I was talking to my mother about it, and she said, ‘Well, why don’t you try to say it right? If you don’t like them laughing at you, just say it right.’ Course, it didn’t sound funny to you, but it sure sounded [funny to them].”
          G. took J., A., and Lib to visit her family in Penn. “So her brother said he wanted us to go down and stand on the street corner and just talk. So anyway, we get up there, and the first thing I hear is ‘you-’un’s’ and ‘we-’un’s,’ and I said What are you saying? I said You got the nerve to laugh at us for saying ‘y’all’? . . . you don’t notice it ’til you go somewhere.”




“One wry observer has called the southernness of the Senate, particularly its elite inner club, ‘the South’s revenge for Appomattox.’ Certainly the atmosphere is predominantly southern, the veneration of tradition, of courtly manners, of gentlemanly agreements, even of bourbon and branchwater. In fact, the very clubbiness of the place is southern.”








It's fine + you'd love it - 7-21-57


We were here Sat. afternoon. Its fine + you’d love it. A letter
will be at Madison for you. Everyone here asked about
you and we all wish you were here.          – E


{“She wasn’t one for ever mistreating anybody.”}


Fishbait: “You-all go in and find a seat.”
corn bread + greens in the restaurant.

“hurt at the attack of the North”
“he just loved the other sections.”

The rocky gorge produced its own cold air
welling up from the zoo to the apart-

men.       I was born to talk this way
I didn’t notice & cain’t he’p it







“Her apartment looked out over the zoo. And we could sit up there at night – and of course, there was no air conditioning in those days, and we had the windows open in the summer and we would listen – they had one of these – I don’t know what they call it – some kind of screamer – a bird – and periodically it would emit these blood-curdling screams. You’d be sitting there watching television or something, and “EEEH – YaaaaaaaaH!” There he goes again. And then you’d hear the lions out there.”

“We always got along so well. We never fussed about anything. . . . She was just a wonderful roommate and a wonderful person. And I always loved her.”




“A relatively high percentage of Washington’s population lives in apartment houses. Many of the more exclusive apartments are in the Sixteenth Street, Connecticut Avenue, and Massachusetts Avenue areas.”

– Episcopal Church across st. from them, on Cathedral. {still there – tiny and faux-medieval}

– They’d take turns using the sleeper couch, at Cathedral Av apt.

– Corner of Connecticut and Cathedral – they could walk to the Hotel Calvert







I’m all ready to go to bed + having a night cap and settling back to talk to you a bit. Don’t know why I give all this information – but sorta like it when you tell me “how” you’re writing me – so think maybe you do, too.





Where did all the undergods go?
Till you’re face-to-face.
Tin Cup Alley, Freeman Alley,
Goat Alley, Temperance Court –

The Sumerians dug irony.
Will those who dig us up
pls. find it when they see it?
They invented alleyways.

“Of course, we cannot know
who these people were . . .”
You no longer have your whole life.
Did the Sumerians.







She worked long hours. She and her roommates “managed to keep {them}selves fed.” She only ever had one martini at a time, they say. The picnics were on Sunday.

“Lib came home as often as she could.”





“Women should begin especially to look with critical eyes at the present physical framework of ‘home’ as represented by the cramped, ‘efficient’ apartment . . . an expression in bricks and stones of modern woman’s reduced status.”







Mother made the cutest kitchen curtains – they are lovely
– and another taffeta bedspread, so the beds are now alike.
                                        So lush, or plush or something!
And she covered My {Aunt} Frances’ rocking chair . . .





Taffeta as “lush”? “A name applied at different times to different fabrics.” Crinkly tutus. Or maybe shimmery like satin. But not liquidy silk. Something to run one’s hand across w/satisfaction, approval, admiration of prosperity, rather than tactile pleasure.

“Of a woman: sexually attractive.”

But not “plush,” surely: dense, resistant nap little kids create patterns with by brushing w/slowed hands – the thick, stickily feel of a well-fed pelt turned inward. Creating a corona of dull caught light around the folds. Heavily.

“covered My Frances’”: several lush levels of possession (or belonging) contained herein

“Florid, bombastic; over-dressed; dainty, delicate, fastidious.”








“That’s Lib! She always looked so nice”




“Oh, there she is — Miss Priss!”







mom at 39







“And I would ride back and forth with her to work in the morning and in the afternoon . . . I know this sounds silly to anybody that wasn’t there, and you really can’t appreciate it. But iiiit waaas HOT – it was June – and something was said and Lib said, ‘Oh, look! Magnolias are blooming behind the State Dept.!’ And why that stuck with us as being familiar – you’re familiar with that, right? at the Ellipse, you go around and all the magnolia trees? – OK. I guess it was just b/c it was hot and they were starting to bloom. But it never failed after that. If it was a hot day, Lib and I would look at each other and say, ‘Magnolias are bloomin behind the State Dept.!’ To this good day, when I drive by a magnolia tree and see it bloomin . . .”



          “The tourists come to Washington in April to see the cherry blossoms, when Washington is often chilly and blossomless. They ought to come in May. May is a lovely month, but nowhere in the world lovelier than in Washington. Washington’s May makes up for Washington’s August, which is saying a great deal.”

“Everywhere there are puzzling gestures, including (but not limited to) political overtones, psychological undertones, sexual innuendo, and an extraordinary amount of interpersonal nuance. There are odd acronyms, loopy synonyms, and no shortage of regional and cultural colloquialisms.”







P.S. I’ve passed “Miss Peach” around to all my friends
who also wear leopartards



Duration is wound up and running on memory

Neuroscientists tell us that we “re-consolidate” a memory every time we “use” it – different circuits of the brain light up each time the subjects recollected the same event. And the account of the event differs, if only slightly, every time, depending upon one’s needs in the present. Moreover, the physical “memory center” of the brain is directly adjacent to the “imagination center.”

The Archon:

Two conclusions can therefore be derived:
1.) Humans are very adept at bullshitting themselves, and
2.) They create their memories like poems. Therefore:

For “memory” read “time”

For “hot” read “leopartards”

For “diplomacy” read “magnolia”

For “April” read “May”

For “loopy peach” read “elliptical speech”

For “being” read “peasant shoes”

For “time” read “money.”







A modular poem         /         constructs itself

just like it       /           oughta be


a horizontal          spatialization

                                                            of lived life







Being and Time - March 6, 1952

“I can imagine daily life . . . as it may have been, but I don’t with any assurance remember it as it actually was. Daily life, insofar as it’s the realm of recurrence, habit, unmarked continuity, and routine, lacks evident singularity, and, though it runs on memory, it doesn’t make itself memorable, except by chance, as prompted by contingencies of the present or of imagination. . . .”







“What I’ll always be in awe of (I an only child of only children) was Lib’s power to consolidate the family, to be its overseer and convener. An outsider like me got swept in without noise or strain. I’ve never belonged to anything as I did then.”







Mom courting rabies 1956

















Under sealed walls, behind
the giant burr of compressors,
each person hatches a plot for immortality.
There’s something underneath,
everyone in the wedding party vows.
Friends of the family feel this substance
mount about them.



I became an only child because of her, only
became a child because of her. As of this writing,
I now have 652 Facebook friends because







          “The house on Wallace Street {in Dyersburg} became like the court of a German princedom like Hanover or Weimar in the time of Goethe whenever the right family members gathered to receive most of Dyersburg. I was sometimes a lurker in corners, an onlooker (although always tolerated, even affectionately accepted) like the figure of Bruegel in the picture of the peasants dancing. Only these were royalty!
          “And always the party could not be at the heights unless Lib was in town. It was natural somehow for her to be the one to get the first courtly bows, though she had no pretenses.”

[Gin:] “Dec. 26 – . . . I felt no warm Xmas cheer. Felt very lonely and wished to be HOME . . . Esp. there, there shone the jollity and cheer. . . . I wonder why I am not able to be make a enter {sic} for cheer as I learned at home.”



“. . . though they had been gone from there for many years, they continued to call it the home place all their lives. It was as though no matter how far away they moved . . . they all needed and wanted the home place as the fixed center of their lives.”







I know, honey, my relatives are enough to get in anybody’s hair and I’m very thoughtless to get you involved with them. You do know, tho, that I’d rather be with you than anybody.



I need a tap root. I need a floppy hat.
I could eat my way to the heart of the world
to curl up.

No – plastic

To aim your laser at a single letter of the alphabet,
this is accounted happiness.
To focus, this is happiness.

The island of home
(someplace has to be the target.)

The role of Goethe will be played by

Madame de Staël will be played by

Hegel will not have been invited.


The Archon:

Look, just give me the house before they tear it down.
You can’t go home again. Take the deduction.







“Among lively conversations when Lib was home on Wallace St. was her tales of he pols she worked for, what arrangements had to be made for campaigns, what odd things happened on the hustings. . . . She was intensely loyal to these figures; an idealist and consciously lady-like, she did not engage in backstairs anecdotes. . . . She was close enough to the Gores to go in and out of their privacy.”





         “. . . They came back {to Washington from their home states} knowing what public opinion was. They came back refreshed. They came back better able to do their job by this business of seeing a wide variety of groups and interests . . .”

[her trips to Dyersburg: de facto political as well as personal]







          . . . I’m having the office out Sun. afternoon for punch
(really!) + to meet Mother – at this point I need assistance, both
moral + otherwise! But having a drop-in party is the most painless
way to do it.




I don’t feel very connected to the Lib of this period. I don’t remember myself in my thirties very well. What an easy time of life to glide across

I remember me at age 20, cranking out letters one summer for a Congressman – dutiful noncommittal acknowledgments.

Alzheimer’s scares me far more than death. This is supposed to be a comedy. I remember the hustings — knocking on the five or six doors of little towns, sneaking into apartment buildings to canvass. Comedies always end in a wedding, so this one will.

Dear Mom
please protect
us from the atom bomb,
          & c.

Life-writing serves as fetishistic mourning substitute
in and out of boundaries and borders when!
we need assistance, both moral + otherwise!
Punch would be the painless way to do it.

Dear Mom home is just another customer today.







“Lib came home as often as she could.”

tulips 1

“I think they were planted by these three Irish sisters who
lived in your house before you.”







October roses:
yellow butterfly rhymes
with yella leaf

I forgot the name of that moment
Play me into its roundabout dream

who lives now,
whenever it is








Epigraph: Susan M. Schultz, Memory Cards, 2010-2011 Series (San Diego: Singing Horse Press, 2011),53.

“One wry observer”: William Walton, The Evidence of Washington. Photographs by Evelyn Hofer (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 103-104.

“I WONDER IF YOU HAVE THE MISTAKEN”: Quoted in Kyle Longley, Senator Albert Gore, Sr.: Tennessee Maverick. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2004), 134.

We were here Sat. afternoon: Postcard of Virginia gift shop, with message from Lib on back.

Fishbait: William “Fishbait” Miller (b. Pascagoula, MS 1909; d. Greensboro, NC, 1989), Official Doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1949-1974. “Mistuh Speakah–the Prez-dent of the Yoo-nited States!”

“A relatively high percentage”: Morgan Beatty, Morgan Beatty’s Your Nation’s Capital (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956), 230.

“Women should begin especially”: Ferdinand Lundberg and Marynia F. Farnham, M.D., Modern Woman: The Lost Sex (New York: Harper & Brothers Pubishers, 1947), 370.

“The tourists come to Washington”: Stewart Alsop, The Center: People and Power in Political Washington (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968), 2.

“Everywhere there are puzzling gestures”: Jessica Helfand, Scrapbooks: An American History (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2008), 176.

“I can imagine daily life”: Lyn Hejinian, in The Grand Piano, Part 4: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco, 1975-1980 (Detroit: Mode A, 2007), 99.

“. . . though they had been gone”: Robert Drake, The Home Place: A Memory and A Celebration (Memphis: Memphis State Univ. Press, 1980), 8.

The Archon: “. . . [T]he meaning of ‘archive,’ its only meaning, comes to it from the Greek arkheion: initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded. . . . [I]t is at their home, in that place which is their house (private house, family house, or employee’s house), that official documents are filed. The archons are first of all the documents’ guardians. . . . They are also accorded the hermeneutic right and competence. They have the power to interpret the archives.” Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996), 2. And the Archon, it seems, just will not leave me alone.

“. . . They came back knowing”: “Howard E. Shuman, Legislative and Administrative Assistant to Senators Paul Douglas and William Proxmire, 1955-1982,” Oral History Interviews, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C., 88.



Joseph Harrington is the author of Things Come On (an amneoir) (Wesleyan University Press 2011), a mixed-genre work relating the twinned narratives of the Watergate scandal and his mother’s cancer; it was a Rumpus magazine Poetry Book Club selection. He is the author of the chapbooks Earth Day Suite (Beard of Bees 2010) and Of Some Sky (Bedouin, forthcoming 2014), was well as the critical work Poetry and the Public (Wesleyan 2002). His creative work has appeared in Hotel Amerika, The Rumpus, Atticus Review, BathHouse, 1913: a journal of forms, With+Stand, Otoliths, Fact-Simile, and P-Queue, among others. He is Professor of English at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.