Monday, October 5, 2015

House On The Hill

Image (c)  Erik Johansson

House on the Hill

I’ve built a  fine house on top of my head, grey
dormer windows, tall stories, preaching chimneys,
heavy boards of years across the door. 

It’s easier now, not going in and out,
and I needed a way to keep out the dead.

The time it's taken you'd never guess, to 
trim my ears into topiary frogs, meticulous sentinels here
by the door, crouched comical, listening and green

on the hair I’ve mowed smooth as a fog. Totems
well placed can help keep out the dead.

Of course, my eyes still stay outside, blind ovals in
the wild blow of storm, hit by each unseen coldslap surprise,
while inside my house, white incense smoke takes 

the sweetened song of a bird in a cage from attic
to hall, to ward the doors that keep out the dead.

There's the child in her room, lining treasures up.
See her bone beads of grace in a plastic cup gleam
rich red in an eyeglow turned in, flicker 

and spark giving light where there is
neither fire nor candle to keep out the dead.

She wears my mist necklace of disappearing jewels
clothes of umber leaves, shoes from old squirrel tracks
left on the lawn, paints my face with the scent 

of rosemary rubbed on the dark skin of dawn,
come climbing up over the living and dead.

And the view is good from the slanting roof,
laid on the summit of my growth, looking out
where my own eyes ever go, beyond my topiary ear

to the walled horizon of clouds and fear
the dead must cross to get to here.

~May 2011
A little Octoberish music from the past, which I was inspired to dig out of mothballs by a post at Oran's Well. I haven't revised it much.

The artist for the image at top, Revelation Fields, is Swedish photographer Erik Johansson. All rights belong to him. His website of amazing art is here, and his print store, here


  1. Ah bring it on ... I don't know why it was such a surprise to me to read that Minoan "houses of the dead" that predate Greek civilization had doors that were barred from opening not inward, but out, to keep the dead away ... Their houses were built to shut the dead in. So this house on a hill (perfect reboot of the 50s and 60s horror films) is the highest ground one can take to get away from the foggy swamps where They return and writhe. And to build a house on top of one's head, yes, the fleeing brain can't get any more above the terrified physical body. I liked the narrative calm of this, a la Elizabeth Bishop, intimately describing as if in a letter, "I've built a fine house on top of my head ..." And what proceeds suggest that every tended hearth and roof is an escape from the dead, an attempt to ward off evil eyes and knocks on the door after midnight. Of course, doesn't help that the eyes aren't free or safe, they see that they will, no matter how tall the house on the hill. Four skulls and eight crossbones to hang above this door. Who's knocking? What will the answer be next? Octoberals await ..

    1. One hears them knocking, but they can't come in--or so one hopes.;_) Thanks B. I can relate to the one-way doors, definitely.

  2. Spooky and lovely. I especially liked the ears into topiary frogs. Nice. :-) I also really like the necklace of disappearing jewels and the squirrel tracks for shoes. Lovely, lovely words.

  3. This piece has my minds going in different directions. Oh, the possibilities. A great write.

  4. Wow, pretty amazing poem--a very strong image--I have to say that I think I like the poem much much better than the photo (so would also prefer not seeing the picture!) As the poem is very real and psychological and architectural (with some landscape science put in), while the photo feels all too creepy to me. (But that may also be because the girl looks so Swedish.) But as a poetic trope it is all terrific--the house, the doors, the boards, the dormer windows, the topiary ears, the totems and the girl with the plastic cup (very poignant)--and the dark skies outside-- it has a bit of a feel of villanelle with the repeating end words, though it is less pat than that, of course. Very cool poem. k.

  5. PS _ I'm not saying the photographer isn't super skilled and evocative! Just ==agh. k.

    1. I only wrote the poem because of the picture, so had to include it. Most of his work is not this macabre--more surreal. I hope you were able to scroll down and avoid looking too long at it. ;_)

  6. Oh this is wonderful Octoberish darkness.. not yet quite there, but soon i would long to have that house around me all the time, and why not topiary ears.. Love the image.

  7. Thick, high walls those. Loved reading it.

  8. Geez joy, give me the shivers why don't you.
    Way too much Walking Dead for me, but I love it. The dead in our head is an altogether
    different story though. "bone beads of grace in a plastic cup" there is just something to that about putting
    authentic grace in plastic. The skin of dawn climbing over the living and the dead
    was a particularly tingly line.

    1. Originally posted for Open Link Night at a certain pub, I believe. ;_)

  9. Wowzers, what a tale, well told.....perfect for October. I especially loved "rosemary rubbed on the dark skin of dawn." Beautiful.

  10. This is a treat. The poem does well as an ekphrasis of the amazing image, but you have taken us much further than the artist could have done, to see inside the head, to hidden rooms and the prime ordeal motivation for the sea change. I also like the way you have woven the repeating line throughout the poem. It is an additional, creepy touch which really makes the poem for me.

  11. damn.
    I'm having such a difficult time even reading poetry, let alone writing it... but I do know, you head the list when I dare dive in, for all the reasons already written.

    the line that kills me: "on the hair I’ve mowed smooth as a fog" ~

  12. I love when you write poetry that reads like a song that should be chanted and danced. You've conjured so many vivid images, my favorite is: "trim my ears into topiary frogs". Not because I like frogs, like someone who knows me might expect, but because I can imagine the act of carving, the strength that it would take... the sacrifice making the house so very special... her need to keep out the dead so great.

    The image is amazing, too. And like you've done so many other times, the wee bits of tales you've weaved into your poetry makes me want to know what happen to all the rooms... to the child... and to learn if the dead ever get in.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats