Poetry by Philip Hess
At what point is a house abandoned?
Certainly there comes a day
When we recognize that it is,
And looking back we can sometimes
Fix an approximate date,
But while it’s happening
We don’t speak about it like that.
Surely when the last tenants
Were driven forth by the bank
Or the landlord or just an itch
To keep moving, there was talk
Or thought they would be back,
Or some new folks, or a relative
Who needed to live on his own
A while to learn a little life.
Sometimes I ride out just to look
For them, see how far away
I can spot one, the telltale signs.
Today I approached an old house
That did not look bad from the side,
Where a birdhouse sat perched
On a fencepost and a satellite dish
Guarded one corner, the windows
Still glassed, the wood stove pipe
And flashing gleaming in the sun.
But coming along to the front
What only looked from a distance
Like untrimmed foliage proved
To be a basswood punching up
Through the front porch floor.
And then a tingle of recognition
As the true state of the roof was revealed:
The scabrous shingles, the patches
Of algae, the disfigured chimney.
It would be dim and close inside,
The toilet bowl rusty and dry,
Anything left behind in ruins.
In the old days kids would set fire
To a house like this in the middle
Of the night, and the volunteers
Might just let it burn, knowing
That was the cleanest way out.
Today’s was right on the road,
But sometimes I’ll pass a woodlot
And catch a glimpse of dappled leaves
Against gray siding way back in.
Somewhere along here used to be a path,
A mailbox or row of bright sunflowers.
About the Poet
Phil’s pseudonymous reviews of movies and other things appear occasionally at 10franks.com. He lives in (to borrow a phrase from William Gass) “a small town fastened to a field in Indiana.”