by Jane Kohut-Bartels
I passed right by it on that river-twinned road,
The county lax on cutting limbs,
Shrub from the roadside.
Sixty years I travelled down that road
The house sticking out
Like a beacon of light pulling me homeward.
I was ashamed I had gone by,
Not recognizing until up upon it,
And then missing the driveway.
Oh, how much things have changed!
Paint peeling from clapboards and trim,
Shutters, too, and worse offense–
The pin from the door of the smokehouse
Fallen, where the plank door hung like a
Drunken one-armed monkey.
Gone was the orchard, gone the 50 fruit trees
My father labored to grow. Gone, too, the peonies
That crowned the hill below the pasture, too far
From the fence for any horse’s nibbling.
Gone the fence, too.
Inside I marveled how small
The rooms seemed, though a huge
Stove and island took much room
From the old kitchen, once
Simpler in décor.
I put my hand on the oldest mantel,
And the house didn’t breathe.
I heard no tinkling laughter,
No ghosts nor kin playing in the halls,
No strains of a French horn,
No barking of dogs,
No clucking of long gone hens.
That ghost I was familiar with,
Making drying plates stand up and twirl,
And once in a while, I would jump down from
The barn’s rafters, run to the house eager to play
With any soul faintly calling my name.
I never knew what ghost did the bedeviling.
Either a shade of a Dutch farmer smoking
His long, white clay pipe,
Or a Colonial soldier oiling his rifle,
Perhaps a housewife, mourning her dead children.
Typhoid in the 1820’s took
Scores of children. Many graves
Told the tale.
“Sleep on dear babe
And take thy rest,
God called ye home,
He thought it best.”
I never knew what haunted the house,
But something did.
On the side of the house by the brook
Was a 15 foot pile of firewood,
A foot from the shakes, but Good God!
Don’t people know termites
Can fly and fly up into those shakes where
They add to the misery of age?
I remember standing in the upstairs hall,
Looking out into the black night,
And seeing the foxfire centered over the
A wood pile. Gold, a fool’s gold indeed.
I was greedy for that fool’s gold, being
A willing enough young fool.
The house had grown into a fragile, elderly old dame,
In desperate need of her toilette
To repair the ravages of years.
No roses blooming on the trellis,
No pots of flowers flanking the front door,
The iron holders for the window boxes
Like empty arms imploring some blossoms.
I turned and walked away,
With memories good and tragic,
I had grown apart, or grown more cynical,
Life taking a toll on long-ago memories,
Now saddened but at a strange peace.
Finally freed of the haunts of the house-
It’s history, too.
Nothing I could do to repair
The ravages of time or fashion.
Jane’s process notes:
My childhood home in New Jersey countryside no longer my home. Pre-Revolutionary War house my deceased father restored in the 1950’s.
Jane Kohut-Bartels has published 4 books on poetry and short story. Her fifth, “The Nightingale’s Song” will be published late 2014. She specializes in medieval Japanese literature and resides in Atlanta, Ga.
Jane blogs at Lady Nyo’s Weblog.