hobart logo

November 7, 2013 | Poetry

House Hold

Tasha LeClair

House Hold photo

 

I

The man—Grandpa's friend—said,

Welcome to Heaven on Earth.

He wore overalls and climbed in

through the window.

 

Mary Kay, seven maybe, staying

with Grandpa over the summer.

Walking with Grandpa down the gulch,

picking gooseberries and black currants.

 

Purple on her shirt, on her fingers.

She'd accidentally bitten into a bug—

a little bitter worm she'd spat into her hand

and lost in the grass.

 

The man, Mr. Johnson, stood in the middle

of his unfinished house, pointed to one side.

The girls will sleep here. Pointed to

the other side. The boys will sleep here.

 

The sun fell full on their heads

through the open roof. Mary Kay remembered

the mole on the man's neck

 

red, flaring

an alarm.

 

The kitchen will be here. There'll be a nook—

here, by the window.

 

A nook.

That had been the first time she'd heard of one.

 

A nook.

A nook by the window.

A kind of bird.

A nook.

 

Girls over here,

boys over here,

kitchen here,

a bathroom and—

a nook.

 

The men—towering through the void of the roof

into the blue sky, where turkey vultures wheeled

with mangled red heads—solid and monumental

 

as the bluffs shaped like noses

on the far side of the valley.

 

Yet—

there were no girls,

no boys.

No roof.

 

Just an illuminated mole

on a man's broad neck

and a word like the name of a bird repeating—

 

And it was named for the sound it made above houses:

A nook

a nook

a nook

 

She, the adult Mary Kay, sang it:

The man climbed through

the window

because there was

no glass.

 

 

II

The glass is in the ocean.

The glass, a pane, floats in the ocean.

And then its edge slips under.

 

It's knifing down and you're

swimming for it,

          down

down

 

and your ears pop until they can't

pop anymore

and your eyeballs are about to burst,

and it's cold,

 

but the glass just sinks and sinks,

even though it should lay flat on top of the water,

shouldn't sink.

 

Just when you've almost caught up to it,

this shark drifts up out of the darkness

at the bottom of the sea,

swallows the glass and you

 

(it was always going to no matter

how far, how fast you swam,

how much you gave up).

 

Inside his belly you keep tumbling—

tumbling into another shark,

and another one,

another,

 

getting smaller, smaller,

so small you fall between the molecules

that make up the glass.

There you sit,

 

inside the glass

          inside a shark in a

shark in a shark

          at the bottom of the

ocean.

 

And if Sammy weren't with her,

Mary Kay guessed she wouldn't care.

 

 

III

Grandpa, who hadn't heard her, stirred

the beans. He used his good arm—the other

tucked up like a chicken wing.

 

Grandpa's bare feet on the boards

looked younger than they should,

 

though thick veins ranged over

the good, even skin and toenails reared

gently from their beds,

 

confused her.

 

He broke into a

smile when he saw her,

though he wasn't

surprised.

 

To know

          and not know

someone is there.

 

 

IV

Go into our mother's old room,

the piano room, imagine her mattress

had rested on top of the piano.

She'd climbed down every morning

by stepping on the keys.

 

Sammy would play the sounds her feet

would make.

          Clumsy

waking-up sounds,

 

but sometimes the notes would accidentally

          arrange themselves

                    into little cascades

                              of music.

 

 

V

Mary Kay and Sammy hiked up the hill,

walked along the rim of the gulch, sister and brother,

to watch the Johnson house get wrecked. 

 

The house had stood unfinished,

all this time.

 

The other houses of the valley—

glinting with bits of tin,

lacking shade trees—

looked less like permanent residences

 

and more like improvised dwellings

intended to be abandoned within hours.

 

The light changed them

 

minute to minute,

tearing them down,

reassembling the scraps—

          rude angles,

runny, apologetic shadows.

 

The woman operating the high-ho

swung the scoop through

the remaining splinters

of the Johnson house.

 

Below the bare foundation,

Mary Kay imagined the ghost of the structure,

inverse of its former self,

blading into the earth.

 

Somewhere, just below the surface,

it carried out a life of its own,

undestroyed.

 

 

VI

The nook is in

the house

is in

the girl

is in the

kitchen

is in the shark is in the

molecules because

 

all this was once underwater—in fact,

many times.

 

 

VII

Grandpa came walking

around the bend of the gulch,

no hat.

 

He clutched an armload of antler sheds against

his chest like writhing snakes, the thin hairs

stirring at the edges of his scalp.

 

The last rays of the sun, long and red, flung themselves

over the rim of the gulch, clinging there,

leanly, and dropped.

 

 

VIII

Mary Kay stood in the threshold

of the dark house, waiting

for Grandpa. But really she was

 

listening

for the piano.

 

The air of the house rushed,

cool, past her legs. A band of light

shone from under the door

of the piano room.

 

Mary Kay knew which boards creaked—

the ancient house, a submerged ship in the dark,

smelling like brine.

 

Stars shone, bioluminescence,

through the round, murky window

near the peak of the ceiling. The room,

always bigger at night.

 

More immense, the outdoors

pressing, the gulch—a deep ocean trench

 

in which lived

the most mysterious

creatures of

the sea.

 

Through the window, Grandpa bent over the antler pile,

          stacking the complicated shapes with great

                    care, like a flower-arranger.

 

Mary Kay thought of a river of air surging through

the cattails, the willows, all along the creek

and the cottonwoods—

all the way to the Johnson's empty house.

 

The air from Grandpa's house—

the shipwrecked, briny air—

swamping

 

those silent unlived-in rooms.

image: Andromeda Veach


SHARE