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.
These three photos show the backyard as of July 2015.