The House

From where you stand
beside the road,
you can almost see
the house. Fence slats
bow to you & paint
curls upon itself~
a mockery of maintenance.

tall spreading trees
threaten sun. Strange
you never understood
what time might do
to plans & seeds.

Cracks in the walk
meander like veins
toward a wooden door.
Open it. Step inside.
Enter the house.

Brush by leaves
& buds that
cover the air
with unremembered names.
Pass calendars & mirrors
that conceal the holes
& smears of yesterday.

A rabble of books
throng aching shelves
with the wisdom of dust.
Photographs on a table.
Who are these faces?
These prisoners
in gilt-edged pose.

In the final room of all
there is an unmade bed.
A pair of glasses
stand upright
on the dresser.

Listen. You can almost
kiss the silence.
Clocks whirr–a heart beats
as slowly time
engulfs the house.

Leave the house.
It’s best that way.
People have grown old
& died here.
Children once laughed
& laughing took
their voices, left for good.
Left to live in
other rooms
of other houses
glimpsed by roadways
through tall spreading trees.


(Written on a warm Sunday afternoon in the ’80s at my wife’s family’s house, while they all had gone for a fall walk. I believe the poem pretty much wrote itself in the time they were gone. I walked around the quiet house and imagined the above. Solitude sometimes automatically invokes the writing mood or impulse for me. I had been reading James Dickey’s poetry and had used some of his work in a school poetry anthology I had written and edited. “Inside the River” was one of his that stood out. I guess you could say I wrote “Inside the House.”)

Both presence and non-presence are simultaneously quite palpable in this poem. The house itself seemed veritably alive with a character and presence all its own, which I tried to capture. On the other hand, it wasn’t hard to imagine non-presence since the family was absent and, one day in the future, the various people would be gone for permanently. I guess you could call this imminent or palpable non-presence there for the imagining.


recommended: Peter, Paul and Mary’s “The House Song” from Album 1700

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