“Ode to Antiques Roadshow” by Susan J. Erickson

Susan J. Erickson


He looks like the kind of man who dries the dishes
each evening after dinner as he and his wife stand
at the sink, the dying light rinsing over their faces.

He hands the appraiser two vases, explains in a voice
like chipped crockery that his wife bought the vases,
but died before she could bring them to the Roadshow.

The appraiser says they are Bohemian Mantel Vases
made in about 1880, rare because of the scenic
images painted on them and worth about $4,000.

Now the man and the appraiser are both in tears.
I can’t imagine the vases on my mantle, even if
I found them for $4 at the Wise Buys Thrift Store

on Holly Street, but I am in love with the man,
with the appraiser and the entire Roadshow audience.
In Tucson, I fall in love with the guy in the brown-

striped shirt who brings in a brown, blue and white-
striped Indian blanket that Kit Carson supposedly gave
to the man’s grandmother, the foster child of a poor farmer.

The appraiser tells him it is a Navajo chief’s blanket
made from hand-woven wool as fine as silk and says
it is a national treasure and worth maybe a half

million dollars. How much would it cost, what
would it be worth to run my hand over the stripes Kit Carson,
the grandmother and the Navajo chief once touched?

In Secaucus, a woman brings an early American
card table. She tells the Keno twins, Leigh and Leslie
(I can’t tell them apart), that she bought the table

at a garage sale for twenty-five dollars. The brothers
are as excited as runners at the start line—in fact
they look like they could have run cross-country

track in college. Leigh, or maybe it’s Leslie, says the table,
circa 1794, has a label with the maker’s name, John Seymour.
The brothers crouch, show us the inlaid bell flowers

on the table legs and point to their elegant taper.
Luckily, the woman’s cleaning efforts with linseed oil
and turpentine did not destroy the table’s patina. By now

I know patina and provenance are as valuable as a blue
chip stock certificate. By now I know someone
will show up with a stone sculpture purchased as a relic

from the Yucatan jungle or a Fabergé egg from a guy
selling off his collection. Then the appraiser takes
us through the tricks of the making-things-look-old trade,

the art of making the not-real look real. I can sympathize
with such purchases. I’ve chosen a few things in my life
where the patina wore off and the provenance was over-

rated. If I were to visit the Antiques Roadshow, I would
bring the pottery jugs my father collected along the Mississippi
River from what was probably a saloon dump site.

The jugs are heavy, inscribed with Dutch words
of many letters and look like pieces from a still-life
painting of a table set for an evening meal of bread

and cheese. I know they are not valuable. I see some
on the internet remarkably like those I own. But I would
tell the story of how my dad came home from work

with boxes of jugs and bottles in his pickup,
how we girls listened and knew that life could—
at any moment—bring surprises. I would tell how

ten years later my father drowned in the river while
repairing flood-damaged bridges. Then I would
take the jugs back home.

from Rattle #62, Winter 2018


Susan J. Erickson: “I could write an ‘Ode to the Practice of Poetry,’ and one of the lines would be something about it being a constructive outlet for my obsessions. My fear of spiders has found its way into more than one of my poems. Am I less fearful? Well, I can sometimes handle a spider sighting on my own without calling in emergency help. I’m also obsessed with Antiques Roadshow and can watch an episode more than once. Writing about Roadshow has given me some insight into why I find it so compelling.” (web)

Rattle Logo