Tuesday, March 13, 2012

`That Haven Fashioned by Her Dreaming Mind'

Once people cut down trees, split timbers and planed them when they wanted a house. We photocopy, fax and sign our names often enough to cramp our hands. Monday was like that – endless paper shuffling with house inspectors and the mortgage company. In April, we hope, we move in. Nothing about home ownership ever seems quite certain.

There’s a delicious layer of irony to all of this wheel-spinning bustle. Last summer, I returned to my old job in Houston after more than three years in greater Seattle. Now my wife has accepted a job with her former employer here in Houston, and will return in several weeks. Our new house is two blocks from our old one. I gave the news to David Myers, who lived in Houston for decades and moved to Ohio last year. I wrote:

“Our old street, a couple of hundred yards away as the crow flies, had grass-lined ditches instead of sidewalks. Our new street, a cul-de-sac, has neither. We loved our old house and neighborhood, miss it very much, and the new place is a reasonable facsimile. There’s only nine houses on the cul-de-sac, ours is the third on the left, where the traffic circle begins. In the middle of the circle is an island with four benches, a barbecue grill, sego palms and a tall pine. I haven’t yet met the neighbors but the island looks friendly. The current owners have lived there 24 years and have excellent taste. We won’t have to do any major repainting, etc. The back yard is big and nicely landscaped, surrounded by a wooden fence, perfect for the kids. It’s an 11-mile drive to campus and looks almost too good to be true.”

David replied:

“`Almost too good to be true.’ If you ask me, that should be Houston's motto. I envy you and wish you every happiness in your great-sounding new house.”

Richard Wilbur pokes a little fun at the dream of home ownership in “The House” (Anterooms: New Poems and Translations, 2010):

“Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.
What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.
Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.”

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