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The House


1. The Hall

Here the house pivots.
We can go in any direction
in this clutter of entrances and exits.

The chandelier needs washing;
the carpet treads are grayed.
The house has gotten away from us.
We know so little of one another now
as though I have wakened from a long sleep
to find you changed by a journey.

Yet this octagonal hall seems
a geometer's dream of elegance:
the hexagonal rug, its pastel pattern
knotted by distant fingers,
the inlaid Chinese chests,
the gilded mirrors,
the old photographs of families.

I watch the changeless moons
of their faces.
Slowly the hall fills
with pale light,
the lost beauty of women.

2. The Dining Room

Suddenly you noticed the walls
in this room
where we two
were so seldom alone together.
How many nights
you sat at the head of the table
like some prideful pasha,
the room gleaming with crystal and silver
bright with linens and china,
while I shuttled like some useful undersecretary
eager to serve.

How lucky we were
to be surrounded by so many
who knew a melon spoon when they saw one.
On Sunday they followed the hounds;
On Monday through Friday they followed the Market
But we all followed
the good, the true and the beautiful
from consomme to demitasse and brandy.
Oh, I am being unfair and peevish;
these people meant us no harm.

You found the walls here drab, undistinguished.
Deciding what to match,
rugs, drapes, chairs,
you've been preoccupied for weeks
leering at sample books of papers.

Now we are alone together in this room,
and I hold up lengths of wallpaper
like a hopeful, draper's assistant.
The blue and white is too insistent.
We soon will tire of these bowing mandarins,
frozen in their formal postures.
The gold floral is too lavish,
a B-film vision of a New Orleans bordello.
I do not look my best dripping in rhinestones
in a red-silk dressing gown,
sporting white ostrich plumes in my hair.

The patterns we have tried will not do.
The walls will have to stay as they are for a time
while we return to the search
determined to find the right touch.

3. The Living Room

In this ice blue room
nothing of consequence ever happens.
The Roman glass in the case
is iridescent as soap bubbles.
You've placed the Chinese pieces
to best advantage.
You are an authority
on dynasties and glazes.

One summer evening
the women left the men
for the dusk
as generations of men
have left us for cigars.

It was the time between two suns
crickets birds falling silent crickets.
Twenty-five years ago
we would all have been giddy
with such an evening.
But we were silent
as we walked across the long lawn
down to the stream
and the willows rising dark
against the darkening sky.

We counted three stars
the new moon.
Yesterday we prayed for life, peace, joy
deliverance and consolation.
The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper.
While we watch,
the constellations multiply.
Tonight none of us
needs the North Star.
White dresses.
Our skirts flutter
in the darkness.

We walk back up to the house
through French doors
into a world furnished with Chinese Chippendale.

While we sit
moths gather on the screen
pressed flat to the light.

4. The Den

Wall to wall real
another working fireplace
upholstered and three
antique painted decoys
with mail order
cleverly mixed in with
all this custom made

Night after night
we sit
side by side
in the flickering
light of
Spencer Tracy and
Katherine Hepburn and
Fred Astaire and Ginger
Rogers and Debbie Reynolds
and Donald O'Connor and
Rock Hudson and Doris Day
and the thought for the day
and old glory
until finally the room
falls silent
and we know
all the happy endings
are over.

5. The Kitchen

We meet here mornings.
On the table the lazy susan
is a gaudy roulette of vitamins.
A tangle of plants
grows up around the fireplace.
Our first winter when it snowed weekend mornings
we had long breakfasts here,
the world in soft focus.
Then the land fell off into whiteness.

Suppers now are a World Affairs Council
seminar for two—broiled chicken, rice
and Great Ideas almandine.
I used to find your earnest references
to the Movement touching.
But there have been too many Movements,
too much change in our own lives
to be easy in these conversations.
I know your lines and mine,
but I'm not looking for surprises.

A flat of seedlings is on the counter
in the best light.
The pale green spindles bend to the sun
like a corps de ballet caught
in a graceful gesture.

In nice weather we ate on the terrace.
You've come to hate the smell of citronella,
and the mosquitoes have gotten worse.

From the kitchen we can see down to the trees,
the woods to the West,
the willows near the stream.
Often lately I've stood idle at the sink,
my hands still, looking out, watching,
half-expecting to see a phoenix
gold and red
rise up in flames from the greening willows.

6. The Basement

In descent we were always uncertain.
Perhaps the sense of a darkness
so suddenly disturbed unnerved us.

Here is the machinery that keeps us going:
the unexpected starts of motors;
the nearly silent hum of meters,
measuring, always measuring.
The sump pump and French drain;
when water finds its level,
the pump starts.
I am afraid of floods
of accidental electrocutions.

It's a place of smells.
The crawlspace under the kitchen's dank.
I do not wish to shine a beam there,
to disturb unimaginable creatures,
to have them scuttle noisily away
from the light. Or rush towards it.

In spite of all our precautions--
dehumidifiers, drains, pumps--
the walls are efflorescing.
Delicate white flowers of crystals
crumble under the lightest brush
of our fingers.

Irresistibly we are drawn to this decay
everywhere invisible: in the pipes, slow
corrosion; through all the insulation,
inevitable losses.

7. The Guest Room

We inhabit the past
amidst this furniture
from thriftshops and attics.
These pieces, shabby in the city,
have become picturesque
in this country house:
the bureau, vanity, night table,
all covered with embroidered scarves;
the white hobnailed lamp,
not real milkglass,
but somehow right for this room.

The drawers and closets
are almost filled
with whatever's out of season,
our half cast-offs.
The prints that go nowhere else
are hung here.

The vanity, two sticky drawers
on each side of the center shelf.
How many women
have sat on this low bench
leaning towards their flawed image,
becoming in turn hair,
eyes, lips, never wholly themselves,
then lifted their arms
to twist their hair
into an easy order.

Whoever sleeps here
will wake to three beech trees,
weeping, copper, cut leaf--
shimmering in the sun.

8. The Study

Cordoned, this room's closed to me.
On each chair a printed card,
"Do not sit on this chair;"
on the desk and shelves,
"Do not touch."

The lounge chair
with its own rug
is an island of itself
surrounded by scatter
of bright shoals,
magazines and books you've read
or mean to read.

The desk's a muddle,
yet I have watched you
unerringly reach.

The bookshelves are Dewey decimaled.
No books lie on their sides
as though you've been left
a meager passion,
a librarian's legacy.

Primitive paintings,
strangely joyless
landscapes and portraits
hang everywhere in this room.

9. The Spare Room

Furnished wholly by light,
as much as any field or forest
this room changes with the seasons.
White walls, bare oak floor,
uncurtained windows;
this room is always filled
with rising and falling intensities.

The light shifts,
brightens and dims,
is gold or gray.

I am often alone. Restless,
I move from room to room
until I find myself here.

Bright winter afternoons,
I bring in a thick khaki blanket
and lie like a cat
in the sun.

10. The Master Bath

Whose dream was this?
Mirrored tile, white marble, gold swan spigots.
The swans extend their necks,
mouths open in a silent squawk;
their wings lift.
To this room we've added an old chair
enameled white.

Tonight after a bath
I see myself pinkly fragmented.
My body folds into itself;
the white towel falls:
tendrils of my hair escape
the swift knot.

The clerestory window's
open to the sky.
A three-quarter moon
hangs in the corner
haloed by mist.
I switch off the light
and move among the shadows.
The moon splinters on the tiles.
I am a ghost figure
moving in silence
among the glinting swans
poised for flight.

11. The Master Bedroom

We wanted to anchor ourselves here.
The furniture's dark, heavy.
The four-poster bed,
covered with ivory lace,
an ivory canopy.
We chose these rose walls,
painted the woodwork ivory.

Over the mantle
a landscape:
a simple rhythm of trees
in unchanging bloom

When I became your wife
we stood under a canopy
wound with flowers.
With seven blessings
I circled you seven times.
You crushed a glass
beneath your heel,
O, Jerusalem.

Our friends, dancing,
lifted us on chairs
high above their shoulders.
Past our first youth,
yet we were buoyant;
we had no thought of falling.
We held a handkerchief
pulled tight between us.

Seven blessings for our marriage.
The blessing for wine.

I used to come to you
each month, husband,
as a bride again
to her bridegroom.
Now, back to back
we lie apart
as though we choose
to keep our distance
while we sleep.

Still I dream in this house of rooms.
I dream of a breaking glass.
I dream of seven blessings.
I dream of circling you still
in this house of rooms
circling endlessly as the moon.

(c)1996 Miriam N. Kotzin
Published in The Philomathean Poetry Anthology, ed. Bolt et.al. Philomathean Society Press, l996, pp. 122-134.

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