On the Purchase of a House on Mountain Valley Road, 1985

In the year Samantha Smith died, the year
they captured the Night Stalker in LA, 
I bought a house on Route 220, two floors,
six rooms. This house bore me along 
for quite a few years, from rapture
of little boy noise to secret teenagers upstairs
playing games with impenetrable rules.

Before I completed the sale, Joyce, the woman
who owned it, died at home and it fell to her daughters
to come and pick apart her life, tear up rooms,
even dig up the asparagus beds in the yard. 
Yet they abandoned jars of smoked salmon
in the basement, tintypes of unknown people
in the shed, diaries Joyce kept where she talked

of her time at the sardine cannery, how on
gray days she would leave the house at seven,
hope for a run on fish, some time slicing heads,
and not a day when she would be sent home unpaid.
She visited her mother, helped her clean the rumps
of root vegetables torn from the garden. She laid out
the hard cargo of her life—her mother’s gout,

her own arthritic knees, the pain that twisted out
at each step, the unpaid bills at the Apple Squeeze.
I read each page, followed the lines of her pen, 
lines that carved a small cave of meaning, 
whittled down years to kindling, 
small sticks that were once her life.

No. 8   2019