Friday, January 23, 2009


I have an office in a house adjacent to Gonzaga's main campus. I share it with two other people, people I've never met. That my office is in a house isn't necessarily strange. I feel a little bit like a reality show resident, and sometimes pretend that me and my "housemates" are on camera. It wouldn't be a very interesting show. But there's a steamroller parked in the back. In contrast to the economic struggles many people, public universities, and companies face today, Gonzaga is flourishing. New dorms are being built all the time, and as soon as they are done, they are full. The campus has long since exceded the bounds that orignially contained it, and to accomodate all of this expansion, the univerity has, for years, been buying up all the homes in the surrounding neighborhoods and converting them to university buildings, or tearing them down and building new buildings. This too, isn't necessarily strange. On Sharp, across the street from where my office house is, there was an old building, a Catholic seminary. This was a beautiful old brick building called the Huetter Mansion. Beautiful and old enough that it couldn't be torn down (also, the Catholic Diocese which donated the building to the university said they couldn't). But Gonzaga wanted to build a new seminary. Here's what would've made sense: On the corner adjacent to the Huetter Mansion, build the new seminary. Here's what they did instead: Tear down one old house on the adjacent corner, move the corner house down to the site of the torn-down house, and move the Huetter Mansion across the street onto the foundation of the just moved other house (coincidentally, my office house). Then build the new seminary where the Huetter Mansion hed been. Catholic money.

So they moved the Huetter Mansion across the street, and from my window on the second floor of the office house, I can see the work progress. The mansion is on jacks, and the foundation is being poured under it, things are being secured inside, and soon, the mansion will be inhabited again.

But here's what I like: there's a steamroller parked behind my house. I imagine it was used to steamroll things, make things flatter, and more uniform. That's what it does. But it also sits behind my office house, a reminder perhaps only to me, of temporality. What we make will be remade, will be torn down, forgotten likely, and something else, better and newer will replace it. But if we make a thing well, someone might go far out of their way to keep it. I think of reclaimed writers, literature that survives, well-made poems and stories too beautiful to forget or tear down. I think of the way Michiko is preserved in the work of her husband, Jack Gilbert. Of the lathe-shops B.H. Fairchild grew up in, made living and memorable in his poems. Sometimes I want to drive the steamroller, and sometimes I want to be the thing that the steamroller doesn't get to make flatter and more uniform, the thing that can't, for whatever reason, be made to go away.

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