safe as houses

This poem won Editor's Choice in 2-Day Poem Contest 2017

The house in a shaggy field, 

long abandoned, unroofed, stippled with moss.

Given back to the elements,


some kind of ancient sacrifice,

shot through with ivy and cattails.  Flowers in the doorframe.

Yet still you went in,


stepped over broken bottles and used condoms,

into rooms forgotten: moldering sofa, rusting metal bedframe,

cracked kitchen table left behind like a foundling


as if the owners had absquatulated,

fleeing even their own fingerprints on the furniture.

In each room you envisioned how the house would once have been—


everything copacetic, lemon-printed curtains on the windows,

frilling in the spring breeze.  Orderly.

Once cared for, the kitchen counters scrubbed clean, glowing.


In the basement, a tiny, lost bedroom,

a bunk and a wardrobe, a box full of letters in tidy cursive,

a mourning sampler, and a daguerreotype of an unsmiling man.


Sorrow begets sorrow.


The basement is shadow and dank,

the basement of all your childhood fears—

dark corners, cold drafts, subterranean.


These are the wonders, bombastic beliefs 

that houses hold secrets,

that they are more than plaster or drywall.


Placing shoes on a table brings bad luck.

A swarm of bees foretells a fire.

An old broom brings bad luck along.


And still you go through the rooms,

run your hands over swollen walls,

believe that the house holds your own dark memories.


You walk backwards out of the house,

careful to touch all the same spots, superstitious, ritualistic,

and close the warped front door behind you.


What does it matter in the end?

Perhaps nothing at all—

it’s just wood and nails, paint and cement,


just a place where, once, you hung a jacket

or slept in a souring, narrow bed,

or perhaps lit a match, opened a door, walked away


believing that you succeeded in leaving everything else behind.