Published on Academy of American Poets (

Regardless of Disaster

Only through a disaster or a renovation
does the entire brick side of a house come down
and in this case the workmen threw stoves and refrigerators
out the windows, letting them bounce
off the fire escapes into the little Brooklyn yard.
And I wouldn’t presume to say
they did it gleefully, but the brute force
resulting in the massive sound
well, it would be difficult not to feel some satisfaction
I would think, but I don’t take apart
whole houses for long hours at a time, and I
can’t say how anything around me experiences life—
for instance whether the sparrows
who burrow in the small hill of dirt
by sitting close as cookies on a cookie sheet
then fluttering and chittering, and turning a bit
like gears in a watch, and more chittering
as if they are winding it—
whether enjoyment comes to the sparrows;
nor the tenor when the mice, bucking expectation
change direction to squeeze inside
after the long winter, seemingly undeterred by the four of us
having an earnest discussion about the painting in the Whitney
but racing—calmly, somehow—between the couches
as if it were their private two a.m.;
or the ants who also appeared in the kitchen as if
the first daffodils in the yard trumpeted directions to them
to carry items thrice their size right away
finding just what they needed, a year later;
and all this triggering a cleaning jag
during which I pulled the refrigerator and stove
out from the wall, cleared the shelves, took out the rugs
and saw the naked planes and corners
we made a life within, while across the yards
the construction crew, passing
their own halfway point, had begun to rebuild the place.
How emphatically the truly knowledgeable have worked
to insure we don’t ascribe delight
to living things other than ourselves! But when
the cardinal joins his mate on the top of the fence—
a peck on the beak—framed by the bared stories of the house
and the furred buds on the winter straw of a bush
look like green hoofs about to gallop into leafness
you can’t tell me to separate
the work of instinct from the moment for a jay
when something feels one-hulled-sunflower-seed-better
than the moment-before-the-sunflower-seed
or to deny that fortune in this place
has allowed optimism to alight with sunlight
on the orange construction helmet of the man now
home in bed—regardless, regardless of it all.


Copyright © 2017 by Jessica Greenbaum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Seeing a house torn down and rebuilt always focuses me on the vulnerability and hand-made quality of our ways of living. And just as politics plays on us, so does the natural world, and world of work, regardless.”
—Jessica Greenbaum


Jessica Greenbaum

Jessica Greenbaum is the author of The Two Yvonnes, (Princeton University Press, 2012). She teaches inside and outside academia, most recently through Brooklyn Poets and the World Trade Center Health Program for first responders at New York University’s medical center. 

Date Published: 2017-05-18

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