Melancholy, Like an Old Empty House

Two summers ago my daughter, who was almost nine years old at the time, and I visited Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. The house was beautiful and impressive, but my daughter was frightened not only in the house but outside as well, even as we walked through the magnificent gardens that Wharton herself designed. My daughter said the property felt haunted and asked if we could leave.

I later learned that The Mount is in fact rumored to be haunted. Surprisingly, Wharton had a deep fear of ghosts, despite having been a talented ghost story writer. Some of her most popular ghostly tales are Afterward, The Lady Maid’s Bell and The Triumph of Night.

It was our visit to The Mount that inspired this poem, which I originally posted in August 2018.

Melancholy, Like an Old Empty House

So, this is what it feels like

-melancholy.

Like an old, empty house

sitting atop a hill

on a hot summer day.

Inside, it is dead, silent, still.

Like a fever, the heat permeates the walls,

the film covered windows

the narrow stairwell-

meant for the unseen,

like sadness

hiding under smiles.

*

Melancholy, like an old, empty house

where the sun emanates a jaundiced glow

and the dust and ghosts

and memories

sit at the table awaiting tea

to be poured into cups

stained with past regrets.

*

But the time to drink is over

and the thirst that remains

is eternal.

If you want to learn more about Wharton, The Mount and her story Pomegranate Seed, please check out this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk. Also, please note that while recoding I inadvertently say that The Mount is set upon a 13 acre property rather than 113 acres!

 

Late Autumn Visit to an Old New England Home

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Late Autumn Visit to An Old New England Home

The quaint New England village

in mid-October.

Antique shops, country stores.

White-steepled churches

set against the backdrop

of fall’s spectacular display

of crimson and gold foliage.

And the old New England home.

Her porch adorned with cornstalks and pumpkins.

Her flowerbeds full of yellow and rust-colored mums.

Arrogantly she stands.

She knows her admirers.

How they delight in her unassuming

beauty.

So simple.

Tasteful.

Smart.

She leaves them to wonder

whether she is listed in the registry

of historic homes.

No one

not even she

acknowledges that her charms will fade

with the dropping of the leaves.

*

Be patient.

Wait a bit.

Four weeks perhaps.

Then visit again.

This time

go on in.

Meet her.

Push open the door that doesn’t quite want to give.

She’s not easy, you know.

Hear the creak of the plank floor as you step inside.

Smell the mothballs

and the scent of doorknobs

touched too many times

by so many hands

that the odor

that’s permeated their surfaces

can never be removed.

Smell the faint aroma

of dried out pot roasts

from dinners that stole away days.

Feel the lifeless still

of 4:00

on a Sunday afternoon

in November.

Sit in the chair by the window

and see the world

from that filmy view.

The gray sky.

The skeleton trees.

Now, turn your gaze back inside

and watch the dust

dance

in the late autumn sun

that streaks tauntingly through the glass.

And watch

as a single particle

settles itself atop one of the many knickknacks

that sits lazily

upon the mantel.

Hear the clock.

Each tick

reminding you

of how very long

a day can be.

In the sickening stillness

feel the unbearable loneliness.

Catch your breath.

Breathe in deeply.

Push the air past

the knot

in your throat.

As you sit, feel the house.

The weight

of her past.

So close, really.

What’s 200 years?

Certainly not enough time

for the departed

to resign themselves

to their fate.

 

 

The Warden’s House

abandoned ancient antique architecture

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When I was ten years old, my family moved to prison grounds because my father was a warden. There I learned that places have their own energy and, if too many bad things happen in a space, bad things will continue to happen.

On the night of October 22, 2015, nearly twenty-five years after I moved away from prison grounds, I had a dream about that place. When I awoke, I wrote this:

THE WARDEN”S HOUSE

The hill

Four houses

Forest behind

Fields ahead

A dead end

The horizon

A prison

That place

Autumn

Dead leaves

Bare trees

My mother

Speaking in tongues

Secrets and stories

Legends of the dead

Bones in the woods

Sounds in the night

An insomniac child

Wide awake

Midnight rapping on the door

Something crashing to the floor

The dog atop the stairs

Snarling

The house next door

Looming

Once inside

A cavernous red room

A feeling of doom

Something wrong

Innocence knows

A dry fountain in back

Some toads

Chirping of crickets

Honking of geese

The noisy silence of death

and demons

Peaking in windows

Smashing down gates

The song of that place

On the hill

Where the Warden’s house stood.

*

Just the other night

I visited that house

In my dream

The red room

The living room

The basement door

I saw it all

All that dwelled there then

All that dwells there now

In my dreams

Of that house

On that hill

In that place

Where dead leaves fall

in the eerie silence

of a haunted past

 

This poem was originally posted in October 2015.

Poison

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Into my ear you slipped poison

words that ran off your tongue

and clung

to me for years.

Thirty years

of fear,

it’s origin I had forgotten

until today, on my way to a place

of life, not death.

But death is what I thought.

And death is what I believed,

a death delivered by a fork-tongued hag

who was dead herself .

 

 

Bottomless Sea-Infinite Sky

sea water blue sun

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When I was twenty

life offered infinite, though imagined, pleasures.

And, as I delighted in dreams of my future,

I floated upon the bottomless sea of fantasy.

But years passed

and I found my feet set firmly

on its sandy floor,

chin thrust upward,

gasping for breath,

looking into an infinite sky

an infinite void

an infinite nothingness

and I wondered if, when night fell,

sea and sky would become one.

But now

in this glimmering twilight

the sea is shallow

drained of dreams

and I am dry.

Only my toes remain in the well of possibility.

But the sky, still separate from the sea of youth,

I look to it and wonder.

 

 

Happy

“Are you happy?”

they ask every few months

or so

it goes

that their investment in your well-being

is an investment in their being

well

it is understandable

given that your unhappiness makes them

unhappy

people make conversation uncomfortable

because they address

feelings

are best left unsaid,

best left to settle to the bottom of the

well

it’s dark there,

an appropriate place for dark

thoughts

are thoughts because you keep them to yourself.

You do not share them with people who are

good

people are happy people.

They are bright and light and they avoid people like

you

don’t tell them you are scared and sick and angry and sad

because they could not be

happy

people need you to be happy

too

 

 

 

Lead

My darkness covered you like a blanket weighted with lead.

But I didn’t know.

I didn’t mean to shroud you

with me.

 

In a moment of clarity, I saw it all

the horror of it all

the confusion of good intentions

and miscalculations

and foolish actions

the incapability of a mind full of chaos

to move toward the light.

 

Instead, I carried the heavy weight

of fear

dragging it along

and laying over all I touched

crushing all the good

the hope.

 

And what now

if I lift this leaden blanket laden with all my darkness?

What remains?

The broken remnants of what could have been;

who could have been?

Or is there hope buried beneath the withered remains of possibility?