poem06 Nov 2017 08:02 am

It was her fault, really, that
the neighborhood children had started calling it
The Witch House.
It had borne her neglect through the summer,
the grass drying to crunching browns
the roses grown feral and tangling
to a prickling snarl,
the windows empty.

It was just a house, she repeated like a chant,
and she had begun in these weeks past
the task of cleaning it out, scrubbing away
the stains of old hurts –
scraped knees and
shouted disappointments,
slammed doors –
and dusting dulled dreams from the
corners where they had cobwebbed.
These, perhaps, she could salvage with
the balm of better days –
bicycle rides up and down the driveway,
fresh steamed rice, and
afternoon naps on the carpeted floor
to the buzzy babble of the radio –
polish them into trinkets she could
cherish and display next to the souvenirs
they’d given her from their travels,
before illness and age,
before she’d run away.

She found bright coats and patterned shawls
haunting the hallway closet-
remnants of joyous youth-
next to stacks of forgotten paperbacks
still smelling of drunken chicken soup,
mothballs, and winter.
The specter of her family’s bustling
holiday visits lurked further in the dark,
faded and gray.

This is how ghosts are made,
she thought, peering into the bedroom
she had saved for last,
where she could still hear the soft
echo of her Ama’s voice
humming inside the old TV,
where the tick-tick-ticking of the
sewing machine still clustered
under the bed with the dust bunnies.

They are born of love left to sour
inside barren rooms and locked drawers,
ignored and then forgotten.

A window had been left slightly ajar,
probably her oversight in her hurry to leave
those months gone when the bedroom still felt occupied,
when the wound was still fresh, sorrow sharp.
Summer debris scattered like ash on white sheets.
She lit a stick of incense and placed it before
a framed photo of her grandparents,
a makeshift shrine of sandalwood and sighs
as she began exorcising the
memories curdled by grief and regret
with little green stickers marking
the cost of each.

Later, she drove in the final nails outside,
the sign bright even in the worn blue twilight,
the house settling behind her, a box at her feet.
Tomorrow, she would throw open the windows,
burn the paper money and sage,
unlock the doors for the strangers
to come and
carry away
the remains.

illustration is Old House, Easthampton, Long Island — by Frederick Childe Hassam, 1919. oil on canvas painting. Exhibited in the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut, USA.

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