New Old Place

This poem won First place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2011

We move into a 90-year-old building

on top of Seattle’s steepest hill.

Cascade of pavement breaking onto

Mercer Street, wet palm of the city.

This reminds me of Rosemary’s Baby, I say,

adding, after you recoil, in a good way.

Slender bone of railing rattles up the stairway,

carved glass doorknobs and faucet claws whose

squeaking twists seem to wind back time.

I finger the ragged ends of my hair,

think of clipping it short like Mia Farrow’s

or like my sister’s.


We push furniture into rote patterns turned

fresh constellations inside these walls and

their leaden secrets pressed between layers of paint.

The view of jewelled harbour breathing ferries in and out

makes up for patches of pale rot that

mar the floorboards, the vascular ripples

spread across the bedroom ceiling.

We quibble over the order of books on shelves,

Atwood nestled against Burroughs,

Nabokov’s eyes, black and white and skeptical,

peering out from one thick spine.


Duct tape slashed, the last

derelict box labelled “MISC.” unpacked.

You cradle your guitar, strum tenderly,

steady treacle of music a test

for damage from the truck

while I realign mugs in cupboards,

get compulsive about the evenness

of gaps between chairs.

Thousands of miles from our real homes,

we revel in these small comforts.


Hard part’s over, you say,

eyes closed as we clutch tired hands,

but I bleed consciousness

slowly, uncertain of sleep in this new old place,

threatened by the ease of your descent.

Below us, a bus filters through the city,

passengerless save for an umbrella,

a going-away gift from your mother,

that slides and shudders with each turn of the vessel,

its bright nylon collapsed, forgotten,

still damp from the rain.