The House in the Town


I have moved into her house
where ceilings are thick with joint compound
hiding the gray hours of the former tenants
an invalid and her criminal son.
In the cupboard beneath the china cabinet
are broken crayons baseball cards
three monkey dolls clutched in each other's wired arms.
On torrential afternoons
the basement slab puddles with run-off.
Tar from the Pall Mall years bleeds through two coats of paint.
The casings pull from the storm windows and walls.
Mowing the lawn beyond the swing
sending seed across the neighbor's hedge.
Near the birdbath I find an old burning pit.
Poking ashes with a rake handle
I upturn a blackened box spring
a charred wig and carbonized bottle
evidence of a terrible fuming.


Across the street in Eisner Park
a flock of October birds undresses the trees.
In the downtown grill the coffee is strong
antique tools hang above the tables.
The cooks and waitresses are written into the last will and testament
of the dying clientele.
While eating waffles I read in the paper:
Now domesticated, sheep will die of melancholy
if separated from their mates
I cross between electricians and soy farmers to pay at the counter.


Months pass.
The maples' tiniest limbs
spread across Church Street like wooden nerves.
There is a wedding reception in an old Shriners' Lodge
above a frozen lake.
In a year of record wind chill skin turns to scales.
Standing near a furnace of molten cullet
becomes the methadone for our longing.


In the house we huddle in dusty sweaters
and pass in the hall.
We bake our cornbread with buckwheat and yams
and coil in bed like monkey dolls.
We wait for the snails to reappear
and paint the splintered pallets.
For the spiders to web the underbelly of the sinking floor.
We hang each of her new works
and try to take possession of rooms and memories.
I am greedy for all those years.
I belong no more in this house than in her box of letters.


Poems by John Waldman:

The Water Month
The Heat
Of Madrid
The Lake on the Border
The Woman in the Hat
The Jewelry Box
The Corner
Huber's Tavern
The House in the Town
From the Home of Furious Wonder
From What Is Left Behind
The Den of Finitude
The Story of a Mountain

TIMES TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets