Northfield, Minnesota. And in the clutter of a thrift shop to raise money for good causes, I found a ceramic weirdity of no foreseeable value. Yet it made a noise, a silence in me at odds, at once. Meaning everything flashing through my head stopped, a jolt, like old elevators used to let go and catch themselves in a half second or two. You felt it. Various places—your bones, your belly. But you made it to the ground floor intact. Which is to say, you forgot quickly.

I haven’t forgotten. It was—is, I still have it—a little white rocking chair to hold in the hand, simply and crudely made. N.Y.C. it says on the bottom, but also Japan. There’s a date, almost: a 19, then two numbers smudged out. The rocker actually rocks. Black crosshatches on its arms and seat allude to, suggest, remind . . . And that tiny crack barely visible on the back. Clearly this chair has been loved and used. Had been. That’s the key. On the high front of it, smack in the middle where a tiny head would lie back, are the famously plain initials: JFK. Oh, I thought. And sort of laughed because I figured tacky and poignant make a bad marriage, a terrible combo. In this age of irony, I’m a card-carrying member up there on a ledge, as ready as anyone to jump, looking down on the great sad expanse of the human story. But I narrowed, to a little oh.

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