I was a full-time house sitter. I had no title. I lived in a farmhouse, on a small hill, surrounded by 100 acres. All was still. The fields were in a government program that paid farmers to abandon them. Perfect. I overlooked Union Lake, a small lake, with a small ugly island in the middle-- a sort of mistake, a cluster of dead elms encircled by marsh, resembling a smear of oil paint left to congeal on a palette. Pesticides farmers sprayed on their crops over the years had drained into the lake and made the water black, the fish shake. About the family that built the house I knew nothing. Built in 1865, perhaps they came after the Civil War? It was a simple house. Two stories. Six rooms. Every wall crooked. Before the house, Indians camped there. If you listened you could hear them. On Sunday afternoons in early June, the sun would burnish the interiors. Shafts of light fell across the rooms. An old gray cat sparred his mote-swirls. Up a tiny staircase, ladder steep, I was often found, adrift, half asleep. I forgot words, where I lived, my dreams. Mirrors around the house, those streams, ran out of gossip. The walls absorbed me. There was every indication I was safe there. Outside, children sang, sweetening the air: Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream . . . their fingers marrying each other with ease as the dark built its scaffolding above the trees. Peonies spoiled, dye ran from their centers. Often, the lawn was covered by a fine soft rain. Days disappeared as quickly as they came. The children receded. The moon rose. Cows paused on the wild green plain of all that land still left uncommercialized. Three years I had there. Alone. At peace. Often I awoke as the light began to cease. The house breathed and shook like a lover as I took for myself time needed to recover.
Poem from The Clerk's Tale, reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Company
Spencer Reece is the author of The Road to Emmaus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).
Date Published: 2004-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/then