This neighborhood used to be a government
camp for laborers building the city up from scratch—
Mother said, later, a row of bungalows came up:
housing for officials on vacation from the capital.
Mother washed floors caked with dust
when we moved here fifty years ago—
She said this house, No. 6, used to be
one of the president’s summer homes.
His portrait used to hang in the front room,
but I don’t know now where it’s gone.
After we settled in, the first thing she did
was plant a garden: grass seed strewn across
the muddy flats in front; then rose bushes,
even a dwarf apple tree, like a foreign hope
to nurture through the years. When I was ten,
my parents extended the kitchen and put in
granite tiles with sawtooth shapes, remaindered from
someone else’s building project. Father took his lump
sum in retirement, and before I graduated college,
had all the floors re-done in wood parquet, the walls
paneled in pine. Before the money ran out, he’d hoped
to turn the rafter space into an extra room, snug
for reading beneath the eaves. This room is still
unbuilt, but there’s a staircase with beautiful balusters
leading to the space of what might have been.
And all of us are gone, or going, one by one—
So mother in her waning years will find
a buyer willing to take it, tear it down,
make of it some new thing we might no longer
recognize… She sits and sorts and packs,
discards detritus, surfeit of accountables:
garments, furniture, oddments whose meaning
could only be deciphered by her. Deeds
will be drawn, contracts acknowledged
on all sides. The tremble in her voice
is the uncertainty about her next abode:
not just where, how many rooms, how much,
who the neighbors are— How can it be
there’s a fourth-quarter moon already
in the branches, how can it be so late now
in the year? She could swear the new grass
had just come in, the shutters set in place,
domestic spirits appeased with prayers,
with gifts of grain, oil, water, wine.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES
- Triolet: Epistemology of the Bees
- Fine Print
- Give thanks for the weight
- What’s Written is Not Always What’s Heard
- The days, sharp-finned, they plane
- Selling the Family Home
- Elegy, with lines from e.e. cummings
- Letter to Audrey Hepburn
- Stage Directions
- Dear spurred and caruncled one in the grass,
- Dear one, anxious again about arrival—
- Epistle of the bird
- Prayer for Wings
- Small birds fly past,
- Why it’s OK to live a little
- Instruct, recall
- Winter Song
2 Replies to “Selling the Family Home”
Beautiful, sad, disturbing poem. Beneath the eves? Eaves? Maybe US and UK spellings of this differ.
Thanks for catching the typo – have corrected it! – wrote this on the way to DC last night, on my iPad.