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House, Care Of

Liz Waldner


In the nights an owl calls.
In the days a brown cow comes
through the fence to eat the long grass.
Sometimes it brings a friend.  Then
I go out and we stand and look
at one another.  I say a few words
to see if it matters.

Yesterday the brown cow trotted
briskly over some primroses.
Not wanting to replant primroses
for the house’s absent owners
I called the cow’s owners.
No more cows.  Alas for words.

I have to find a place to live for after March.
I feed the ancient, scrawny barn cat.  It’s black.
When the temperature dropped and the rains began
I made it a house:  cardboard, towels.
Yardstick rafter, black plastic roof.
Radiant floor heating even (heating pad).
When it climbs in its house, I am happy.

It meows with gusto when I open the door.
It purrs when it eats.  This kills me.
When I walk up onto the levee road
it sits in the dirt of the drive and yowls.
Runs up yowling to meet me when I walk back.

The owls and cows know I am here.
If they think anything of it, I don’t know it.
I try not to think the cat loves me but I do
in its rickety, ancient barn cat sort of way.
I hate to leave it.

I housesit my heart so take what I find
to be what is needed.
I’m still alive:
a hand may again pet me.

From Little House, Big House.
Noemi Press. 2016.


[Thank you for your kind donations to Poet, Liz Waldner | Medical Fund.]

after many years of giving everything away every time i moved, i began to practice the ballast approach: keep everything in order to be so freighted one cannot budge.  circumstances were uncooperative: one still must budge.  (this syntax strikes me as faintly non-native french.  my teacher at french school asked me at the end of the class where in germany i was from.  ‘o but you speak french with a german accent, i do not believe you are american.’  she meant this as a compliment.  (now how i am…etc.)

furthermore, with the advent of, first, vintage shops and, then, (i assure you i deplore the new yorker’s overuse of commas) ebay and etsy, it became more and more difficult to replace both necessities and treasures on the cheap (i.e., in thrift stores).  my current toaster, for instance, is an upright loaf of chrome with one of those fat brown cloth-covered cords. it’s been in the world almost as long as i have and has faithfully toasted my bread for decades with its tiny glowing red wiry innards.  it’s heavy, i love it, and when i gave away its predecessor age-mate, i suffered with plastic junk replacements for a long time.

and so it is i’ve become the queen of packing.  if you can fit it, you can keep it! packing, fractal packing.  (bond. james bond.)  by which i mean: see photo.  by which i mean:  see how those small things are puzzled into that little box with the fish for a handle?  well, in the little boxes there are invisible things, also puzzled in just so.  (the dennison box (i have a library of them, for they are made like little books or ledgers and their spines line up just so; yet they were collected one by one over decades and only in 2011 did i manage to get all my boxes from several storage bins in one place) actually contains some dennison labels, but there are also:  sea glass, a jade bead, some especially lovely paper clips, strange seeds and a minute scallop shell.

the little boxes fit into the bigger box with the fish for a handle; it, in its turn, was puzzled into a bigger box full of other boxes (several of them refinished lane cedar boxes of the miniature hope chest signifier one containing a bird’s nest, a wasps nest, certain shells, feathers, sand dollars, eucalyptus buttons and so on, added to as it was packed and unpacked on the west coast, the east coast, the gulf coast and places in between, being added to all the while—

and strange as it seems, just as i can, at this remove, having not seen these boxes nor their contents for upwards of three years now (here i hope they are safe and dry in their current storage bin (not always the case, as it happens)), tell you much of what is in them (one feather is the surprising orange of a northern flicker’s nether tail), i can also say where most of them came from—

the bigger boxes eventually contrived to fit in the smallest possible storage bin.  so the more skillfully i pack—with care to preserve but equally cleverly to preserve (if it doesn’t fit, it has to go where i am not)…

so these are for me memory-palaces materialized and may trace or shadow in their fractal patterns some winding path of memory, synapse tracing its route in my brain.

[Thank you for your kind donations to Poet, Liz Waldner | Medical Fund.]