Domicileby Charles Cantalupo
Grandeur in any of its moods, but especially in that of extent, startles, excites – and then fatigues, depresses. For the occasional scene nothing can be better – for the constant view nothing worse.
Edgar Allan Poe, "The Domain of Arnheim"
Night of the first freeze and I rush out to cover our annuals –
Coleus, elephant ears, impatiens, other things I bought
Over the summer but now I can’t remember what they’re called:
No more exotic than Strobilanthes and Draceana,
Persian Shields, Green Spikes and Hypoestes all polka dotted.
Grabbing the bed sheets and tablecloths too raggedy or stained
Out of the back of the linen closet, dining room hutch, and
Pile in the basement of dropcloths, I still don’t have enough to
Cover as many plants as I want to, letting three ferns too
Potbound and old to live – Bostoniensis – six more months inside,
Hang from the Japanese maple, so that showers of blood red
Leaves intertwine with the dying fronds as sacrifice made to
What I’m not sure but it feels like some acknowledgement that I
Fail in my efforts to save from death enough life in this garden,
Likewise in everything else, but I can try, as I do with
Covering plants as a kind of rite and one of many more
I get obsessed with in autumn: “rite” or seasonal chores, too,
Yet maybe more like a pathological virginity,
Like Proserpina deluded, thinking dragged into darkness
Might be escaped picking flowers; maybe more like a conflict:
One voice and silence or countless uncontrolled and breaking more
Into the meaningless than a meaning ever could handle?
What kind of chores can embody such abstractions and get done,
As if like some kind of sacred duty perfectly mundane –
OCD, I will admit it, somewhat, still feeling worthwhile
Like a domestic or minor kind of soul-feeding beauty?
Three or four weeks ago, seasonal denial first hit me.
Thinking about all the plants that must come in or they would die,
Also how heavy they’d be to carry, plus all the big mess
Outside and in, I felt dread but more so like doing nothing,
Grabbing the Nashe with his “Farewell…Summer bids you farewell…
Archers and bowlers” – and “surfers,” I say – meet “desolation…
Silence... / …slow marching…descend I to the fiends” and “[w]eep heavens,
[M]ourn earth” and “here Summer ends,” still singing, borne on the bier by –
Uh-oh that’s Shakespeare’s line – “satyrs…wood nymphs,” Nashe and me at least.
Anyway washing the windows comes before plants move inside,
Craving their light the way we do while we love to look through them.
Therefore why not once a year with Windex – wiping the grime off,
Losing some sanity hanging out the second and third floors.
Glass in the windows of our late nineteenth century house has
Ripples where clarity comes back like a poem in detail –
Shot through, entangled, to serve no purpose, alien or shared
Other than seeing as if I had not ever seen before
What I’m not sure of, again, beyond the total unstitching
Up to the sky that unstitches, too, if I see it or not,
On either side of the window, clean or blurrier than hell.
Still I know no job so satisfying when I see it done
Other than…stop me from going back to unified, sealed off
Poetry, monologues when there’s so much more to do outside.
Take my jardin Africain. No way my Bethlehem PA
Winter – Moravian, Christmas city, once a proud steel town
Now a casino called “Sands” will tolerate such a bower,
Real and imagined if I don’t break down, box and put away
Everything but the base of the fountain, stone grapes, stone garlands
Draping motifs of stone skulls reflected in the stone mirror
Held by the statue of “Sight” not only allegorically
Holding the northernmost garden spot, pretty as a child.
Otherwise bye bye to basins full of water and their pump,
Hand brooms from Casamance, plastic trumpets, old calabashes,
Strings of bamboo lights with beads and bells entwining lobster boat
Ropes hung in two-story yews enclosing heavy green chairs that
Also get dragged to the cellar, after they’re scrubbed and hosed down,
Leaving the patio’s ancient flagstones fending for themselves.
Rites of removal extend to anatomically
Twisted wisteria limbs our neighbors prune, which I scavenge,
Setting up sculptures with Massai beads around a big table.
Next come the sections of broken snake arranged among flowers –
Yucatan spotted ceramic stretched out, camouflaged in soil.
Elsewhere I gather the pieces of a platter from Morocco,
Under a bush by the side door in a circle and some shoes
Also left out in the garden for the summer: Brazilian
Yellow high heels bought on impulse but which nobody could wear,
Rotting for years but still beautiful; and one pair of shida,
Hard rubber sandals from Eritrea, worn by its fighters
During their-thirty year revolution for independence;
My little monument lost in ferns but like the oversized
Pair in the roundabout in Asmara that’s called Shida Square.
Under the weeping and fading willow, easily unseen,
Last is a statue from Cameroon – red clay, foot high, hollow,
Set on an altar of stray bricks I dug out of the garden
Decades ago and washed clean now by the weather ever since.
No St. Fiacre, quaint shovel in the ground and simpering
Who needs a woman, it is a woman. I used to rattle
Seeds in her body before her neck broke. Her left leg broke, too.
Why they were sealed in her I don’t know but somehow I lost them.
I didn’t think I should put more in her when I glued her back,
Or when she’s broken again – her looks seem powerful enough,
Not needing anything else from me: her rippling coiffure and
Hemisphere eyebrows all bullet-pocked and begging holy beads;
Face like good bread for the hungry; straight-ahead eyes and big teeth
Beckoning through her full lips while she pulls big long breasts and stands
Strong and presiding; impervious but not I-don’t-know-you
Attitude, leaving some room for unintended, multiple
Interpretations and just as much for single-minded tropes
Aimed her way, resting on weathered bricks beneath forsythia,
And when I move her inside, the last thing after all the plants.
Lugging them in takes all day and so does lugging them outside
Seven months later in spring. The Norfolk pine has grown too tall,
Scraping the extra high ceiling on the second floor landing.
So does the parlor palm overwhelm our dining room’s lofty
Heights and black walls graced with herons. Plants? I should be saying trees –
Them versus me or too big and heavy? Feels like a who-dies-
First kind of question if I don’t simply give them away or
Leave them outside if I want to some year. Am I at that point?
It’s a refrain, a pre-dirge that plays in all my limbs up and
Down the stairs carrying fifty more plants, succulents and cacti.
But when I turn around for no reason, look at them arranged
Hanging in windows, against the walls, on tables, in corners,
Some in new places and others back like old friends who won’t die,
What can I feel but some satisfaction, seeing some beauty
Saved, unavoidable doom put off a few seasons longer.
Then I remember – the vacuum going, cleaning up the dirt
Tracked in with bugs and debris predictably – still to come in,
Propped temporarily out of sight beneath the dogwood tree –
That little statue from Cameroon can’t be left outside. No.
Nevertheless I’m unsure in which plant it will not fall over.
Seasonal chores that feel like some ancient rite or compulsion
Haunt me when spring unfolds, too, as Hardy asking the question –
“How do you know, crocus root? / How do you know?” – in a poem
Published when World War I started, 1914. So am I,
Twenty-first century bourgeois and technology addict
Further away from permission or too lost and remote in
History serving another day’s agenda to wonder
Helplessly much the same way if only for a little while?
Questions and feelings like this propel me one job to the next,
Rarely confessing to anyone they’re there, not including
All the above and their minor, in part mock autumnal rite
Phenomenology. Therefore getting firewood from Ben Scholl
Naturally follows as one more absolute. He owns a local
Farmstand and orchards, the last remaining inside the city.
He dumps a cord of well-seasoned hardwood back in our alley,
After we talk about this year’s apples: honey crisp, melrose,
Evercrisp – being my favorites – all the cider he’s making,
Farmers who sell him the wood, and how this year’s been for growing.
I take my wheel barrow, fill it thirty times or so and roll,
Wobbling a lot and not sure if creaking means this year it breaks –
Back down the path to the open shed connected to our house.
Stacking the logs floor to ceiling on the southern wall, I smell
Some kind of ripening, fertile, solid warmth where I see wood
Cleanly and darkly block out the light through slats in the pink shed.
Gathering scraps for some kindling, hoping I can remember
Big green tomatoes and lavender hydrangea I should pick
When I have finished the wood, I laugh out loud at my thinking,
Last night when Ben called to tell me he would bring it this morning,
I should be starting to write this and not stuck with getting wood.
I mean that getting wood, washing windows, taking in the plants,
Breaking the African garden down are what makes the writing
Happen and not the reverse. Why else, all annuals gone or
Only a few frozen brown remaining, would massive flocks of
Ragged and rackety crows return like echoing caverns
Where a continuo of my raking, raking and raking
Leaves and more leaves and more leaves plays out below and forms a pile
Higher and higher as dusk comes early, mask of unwanted
Cold on my face with lips open, dry yet tasting the red wine
I will drink later inside before I go back out in the dark.