Published on Academy of American Poets (

If the Room Spoke Back

The Old Manse, Concord, MA

Would anyone hear it—
the hearth mouthing the language
of flames in summer, small


rips of wind in still air? Would anyone
passing through these rooms--
wheel on their heels, return


to the slim something in air,
not knowing that wallpaper,
desk chair, and andirons all conspired


to tell the house’s book of hours,
her glossy minutes, the infant’s
long fingers, the cousin’s penciled


sketches on the bedroom wall?
Some days simple as grains of rice,
others wider than the children’s


palms spanned on the wavy glass
as they watched things happen.
Even the damselfly alighted


on the sill’s edge is rapt,
wings closed, her iridescent blue
darkening like a storm


as if she too knew the history,
the militia on the bridge,
the children at the windows,


the smoke and thunder of guns.
The children’s father in the field
deciding. Their mother’s voice


in waves, over the turned
earth, calling him in.
The minutemen


who didn’t especially intend
for all of this to begin,
the children at the glass waiting.


Copyright © 2016 Catherine Staples. “If the Room Spoke Back” originally appeared in The Gettysburg Review. Used with permission of the author.


Catherine Staples

Catherine Staples is the author of two poetry collections: The Rattling Window (Ashland Poetry Press, 2013) and Never a Note Forfeit (Seven Kitchens Press, 2011). She is the recipient of the New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varjouan Award and Southern Poetry Review’s Guy Owen Prize. Staples teaches at Villanova University and lives in Devon, Pennsylvania.

Date Published: 2018-12-03

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