Can a House Remember?

Can a house, long empty and abandoned,

wounded by nails in its side and

silent, sallow boards over its windows

remember the family who once lived there,

spent their days and nights there?

 

Can a house still smell those early mornings,

when two strips of bacon bubbled

in an old black iron skillet

or hear the friendly voice of Wally Phillips,

daily breakfast guest from WGN Radio?

 

Can a house still hear the clamorous crack

of a mother’s back breaking in a game of badminton

or the silent fracture of a teenager’s heart?

 

Can a house still hear the swoosh

of pinochle cards shuffling, players laughing,

or the clickety-clack of the old Singer,

marching in rhythm,

sinking new stitches into old dresses?

 

Can a house still taste the bitterness

of harsh words spoken too soon

or feel the soothing softness

of a comforting embrace?

 

Can a house remember anything at all?

 

And what do you do

when you stand facing a structure

that was once tenderly cared for,

that you once called home,

where you lived and learned,

sought shelter and solace,

and still today regard it with respect, honor, and fondness,

but now stands cold, stiff, and inhospitable toward you?

 

Do you simply stare at it?

Shake your head?

Say, “It’s a shame?”

 

Or do you ask it, as I do:

Do you remember—

and will you never forget—

the ordinary lives

that once breathed inside your walls

that now remain anonymous? 

 

When Rick and I moved from Minneapolis to Charleston, we stopped at my childhood home in Illinois and found the house abandoned and boarded up.  This poem arises from that experience.

 

Western Avenue, house where Jan grew up
The front of my childhood home, where I lived until I married. This was probably taken in the late 1960’s.

 

Jan on homemade swing
As a young girl, I spent a lot of time on this backyard swing that my dad made for me.
Back yard Western Avenue
Our cat, Twinkle, gave birth to three kittens under this backyard porch.
Western Front
Today the house stands abandoned with overgrown brush and boards all around it.
Western Ave Side view
This is the side of the house with plywood covering the bedroom and basement windows.

These three photos show the backyard as of July 2015.

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