Homestead (A Poem) [Repost March 2007]


I wrote this poem in 2006, I believe, then moved it to Facebook in 2007. It’s buried 4 years deep in my Facebook notes, but it’s still among the favorites of my pieces of creative writing. Its narrative thread is based on a memory, or maybe it was a dream. I’m not sure which. Enjoy.

Homestead

Dad pockets the keys, draining a brown bottle,
While the cooling motor ticks out jagged time.
We gape at the collapsed homestead,
Pushed sidelong by prairie sunshine.
“Can we get out and look around?” asks my sister.
Mom covets my stepdad’s assent: he responds
With an upward flick of his sunburned nose.

One loud creak of underchassis springs
And we burst upon the fallen gray homestead,
Socks filling with leaves and burrs.
“Watch out for nails and broken glass, all right?”
Mom’s warning spun windward, though,
Lost to nerve-searing grasshopper’s mantra
And a scattering of dandelion seeds.

A sparse strip of warden alders, tobacco tin red,
Hedge a sodden, sun-dappled creek bed.
A wringer washer and a rusty bathtub,
While in their sprint toward civilization,
Found the plot foiled, knee-deep in Oregon mud.
The thirsty bandit brothers are ensnared
By trickster grasses and deceptive fern guards.

Corrupted fenceposts mark grassy angles
Where yard-defining planks are crumbled now.
Once, someone surely coddled her hydrangeas,
Nurtured those lipstick fuchsias to adolescence,
And prayed protection over bug-speckled roses.
All gone now, one by one, outgrowing need
For underappreciated maternal protection.

Periwinkle vines, weary of confinement,
Creep from the once-fenced yard to creek side,
Mixing its purple blossoms with fragrant loam.
“That shit takes over everything,” comments Dad.
Alvin! Mom scolds. Don’t use that word!
Dad stares at nothing, and swigs from his flask.
“Why don’t the fuckers grow on the roof?” I think.

Half the house was sucked into the ground,
The walls are fallen and gray, never painted.
My sister and I sniff our way inside a crack.
Hesitant, and ready to bolt at sounds of collapse,
We peer inside the gloom, at bare-floor flotsam
Of broken ceramic tile, chalky clumps of plaster,
A dewy mattress, and a stairway to more ruin.

An enamel sink with civet-cat rust clutches
Tenaciously to a tilted drainboard. Moldy carpet
Tries without success to burrow its way through
Floorboards and away from the home. A lone
Marbled blue Naugahyde stool is losing sheets
Of chrome from its now barren, diseased legs.
Something built a nest of linoleum and twigs.

What was left wailed “We don’t belong!”
And lay corroding, in long-abandoned attempts
Of escape, or lame hope of a loving adoption.
“It’s sad in here,” sister said. “Yeah,” I exhaled.
I felt I should scrub and put on something clean.
The whole place reeked of mold and rat piss.
“Let’s go,” I shrugged, suddenly very lonely.

We climbed back into the jeep, and stared again
Toward some rancher’s dreams collapsed.
“Who used to live there?” I asked my stepfather.
“Lots of people lived there,” he grunted.
“Anybody we know?” I hoped they were alive and
Maybe had found a nice house in the city.
“Yeah. Me. It’s the house where I was raised.”

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2 thoughts on “Homestead (A Poem) [Repost March 2007]”

  1. This reminds me of the experience I had a couple years back, when I went with my Dad and my uncle to visit a bunch of places where their Dad – my Grandpa Elmer – had spent his childhood and youth. We found the home where he was born (technically he had been born in a chickencoop outside, which wasn’t standing anymore), found some old “Smith” names carved into a post, lots of “Smiths” in the nearby cemetery, and finally “Smith Cabin” down where the middle and the north forks of the Salmon meet. Pretty amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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