Selling the Family Home

This entry is part 13 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013


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.

Series Navigation← <em>The days, sharp-finned, they plane</em>Elegy, with lines from e.e. cummings →

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