Wednesday, May 12, 2021

'A Good Name for What's All Over'

When our father died in 2005, my brother inherited the house on the West Side of Cleveland we had lived in as kids. I lived there from 1955 to 1970, when I left for college, and in some primal way – in dreams, in memory -- it remains “home.” About seven years ago, Ken sold it. During my last visit to Cleveland, in 2016, we drove by the house and it was a mess – trees and hedges chopped down, grass overgrown, windows patched with cardboard. A neighbor said squatters were living in the garage and the owners were dope dealers. Now I see the house and yard have been cleaned up and the realtors have posted a “virtual tour” of the interior. 

That too is jarring but in different ways. The carpets have been stripped to expose plank floors. I never knew we had so much knotty pine and I’d forgotten the fireplace my father built in 1964. In photo 3, I see the room we called “The Little Room” – it once held my mother’s clothes mangle -- has been painted Delft blue. My bedroom, in photo 16, is painted red like a New Orleans bordello. The place looks familiar, yet not. There’s no sense of outrage, of a fondly recalled place defiled. I’ve been away too long for that and I’m not by nature sticky-sentimental. Rather, the memories I associate with those rooms no longer match. There’s a sense of temporal dissonance. Two poets have described similar experiences. Eric Ormsby writes in “Childhood House” (Coastlines, 1992):


“Somehow I had assumed

That the past stood still, in perfected effigies of itself,

And that what we had once possessed remained our possession

Forever, and that at least the past, our past, our child-

Hood, waited, always available, at the touch of a nerve,

Did not deteriorate like the untended house of an

Aging mother, but stood in pristine perfection, as in

Our remembrance.”


The least sentimental of poets, Kingsley Amis, remembers a neighbor’s house in “Bobby Bailey” (Collected Poems 1944-1979, 1979):


“Of course. I know that, every year, some people

Simply get up and go

Too far for you to see, much less drop in on,

Less yet stay with. I know


“‘The past’ is a good name for what’s all over;

You can’t, in fact, return

To what isn’t a place. It does sound like an

Easy lesson to learn.”

1 comment:

Faze said...

Great lines from Amis. A friend of mine was killed on Pearl Road, not far from there. She always predicted that she'd be hit by a bus before she could die of old age. In fact, she was hit by a car while running to catch a bus.