The Woman Who Grew up in My House Finds Me on Facebook and Comes to Take a Look Around

by Antonia Clark
The Waters
Third Place, January 2019
Judged by Ruth Bavetta

It seemed I’d always known her, deep in the bone,
a long-lost cousin, sister, friend of my youth—
though we had never met, and never spoken.
Yet there she was at the door, apologetic, tearful,

a vase of peach roses, a scarf like mine. Like me,
Like me, the thought unbidden, my arms around her.
For her, time suddenly collapsing to the morning
she left here 50 years ago on her wedding day.

She moved tentatively from room to room, as if
testing her footing, like a child in the dark. How small
these rooms now, how memory had expanded them
to hold all of childhood’s wonder, drama, dreams.

Her father had built this square and sturdy house,
then married and raised seven children, counting
the oldest who drowned in the lake. We marveled
at what had changed, what stayed the same.

At every doorway, every corner, she could see
backward in time, the past shimmering with clarity—
Here the wood stove (see how the floor’s patched in?),
there the ice box, the winter boot-bin, father’s chair.

In this corner, a sewing machine, against that wall
an iron cookstove. The old ceiling’s been covered
with molded tin, floors with ceramic tile, the bathroom
once shared by ten tripled in size to accommodate two.

Her bedroom, with its attic door that once held
monsters at bay, now my small library. She stood
stunned or maybe stalling for time, reading the titles
of my books, neither of us wanting the hour to end.

Then she was taking a last look, everything both
old and new to each of us. And then we were parting.
A wind had come up. Leaves swirled at the open
door, where we hesitated, shivering, eyes smarting.

This poem speaks to connections—between contemporaneous people, between generations, between family and strangers. A deceptively simple narrative leads us to reflect on our own lives and the different houses, both actual and metaphorical, that we have inhabited, and the ways in which there are unknown links between us and others. --Ruth Bavetta