Scrap Art

[creative nonfiction]

When a new recycling shop specializing in crafts items opens near me and requests donations, I decide it’s time: I gather up my years’ worth of hoarded Altoids tins, Mason jars, fancy gift boxes, barely crinkled tissue paper, and a jar full of the orange and magenta ribbons from the handles of boutique shopping bags, too pretty to toss, still flirtatious, raring for reuse.

Opening the shop door wafts up the smell of dust and balsa wood and faraway hints of cedar. I wade into bins of bins, tubs of tubs, boxes of boxes. A barrel of baskets nuzzles one of old cookie tins, 10¢ apiece. Computer letters unmoored from their keyboard beg to become words. There are boxes of crayons and crayon nubs for 1¢ apiece, perhaps because the school year ran out before the crayons did, or maybe the kids just moved on to new crayons when the old ones lost their sharp point. There’s a giant bowl of cancelled stamps, 1¢ apiece, waiting to be rehomed in scrapbooks. Paint and glue tubes, popsicle sticks, corks from wine bottles, wine bottles de-corked. All “rescued from the landfill.”

In the heavily packed back of the store, my gaze snags first on the one-eyed head of a broken doll who hexes me with her singular stare. Then I see the severed ceramic doll parts all around her: cracked heads staring open-eyed. Arms reaching across each other, grabbing blindly. Feet and legs lined up, bodiless, at 25¢ apiece. My hoarder longings stir: I want to make something of these bits and pieces, some sort of found art to showcase their unrecognized beauty, to give them meaning, to redeem them.

But I see now that this display is itself, already, the found art I would make. No other re-assemblage could better capture this left-behind condition in a land of instant obsolescence than this array of unseeing eyes on heads looking for bodies, these corks climbing each other’s backs, and these tins tinkling and clanging against each other’s solid hollowness. No art better than those arms, nudging without elbows, grabbing without grasp. None more articulate than those torsos rolling limbless and unanchored amidst a limbo of limbs.


Deborah Thompson Deborah Thompson is an associate professor of English at Colorado State University, where she helped to develop the master’s degree in creative nonfiction. A Pushcart prizewinner, she has published creative essays in venues such as Briar Cliff Review, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, and Upstreet.