Treasure Island

Christopher Apfelbach

(July 1,1990 / Burlington, VT)

On Greetings


The way to greet an old house
is not to look but to listen—
because only time will tell
whether the walls of a house

caged or sheltered its occupants,
dampened or resonated; and houses,
especially in the height of youth,
are all too conscious of themselves,

breathing as a Barbie would, shallow,
plastic, corseted, terrified of exclaiming
too loudly in case you pass them up.
Catch them in distress, of course—

in the midst of a summer storm,
when wind keens under the eaves
and petals of lightning bloom around the chimney—
and they forget their manners, briefly.

Old houses, by contrast, are always honest
about the sag sloping through the boards,
and they'll happily creak and groan
to tell you so; but since they might

take offense if you scrutinized too closely
the doorframes full of warps and paunches,
the way to make an old house's acquaintance
is not by gawking about but by listening.

And I am telling you this on a grey day
because it is important that you know:
my grandfather died only weeks ago,
and as I watched age overtake him

like a runaway dog breaking past
a man who thought himself master,
the words that had flown wild
from his mouth when he was young

and the house still quiet fell away—
and I did not understand in time
that he needed me to listen,
not to him but to that old house,

to which he had bequeathed his voice,
translating the empty rooms of breath
and the homecomings of memory
as he lay awaiting the last visitor.

Submitted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
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