Elizabeth Steinglass is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today.
Next year, our farm house will turn 160 years old. Much has been added on and reshaped through the years; each time we begin a new construction project we learn more about what it looked like when it was first built. The main parlor room and the staircase in the center of the house seem to be the only truly original vestiges left of the house when it was first built, not counting the doors, doorjambs, and the front windows made of old glass.
Even so, the house feels like an old soul…especially at night. I love imagining the life lived here before we Smiths took over stewardship. Who else sat on the porch, after the day’s work, to see the sun set over the valley? Who else climbed the steep stairwell, longing for the comfort of warm blankets on a frigid winter night? How many took their first and last breaths within these walls? Night time seems to ask these questions. I found the poem below some time ago, and remembered it last night, when the floors creaked and I thought I also heard them sigh.
Nights Our House Comes to Life by Matthew Brennan
Some nights in midwinter when the creek clogs
With ice and the spines of fir trees stiffen
Under a blank, frozen sky,
On these nights our house comes to life.
It happens when you’re half asleep:
A sudden crack, a fractured dream, you bolting
Upright—but all you can hear is the clock
Your great-grandfather found in 1860
And smuggled here from Dublin for his future bride,
A being as unknown to him then as she is now
To you, a being as distant as the strangers
Who built this house, and died in this room
Some cold, still night, like tonight,
When all that was heard were the rhythmic clicks
Of a pendulum, and something, barely audible,
Moving on the dark landing of the attic stairs.