A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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My Parents’ House

The house I grew up in looked simple

from the street, except the tower

at the back, an architectural

anomaly, my father said, that even

God would not forgive. Towers aplenty

sprouted on the grand Victorian mansions

east of us, but not on homes like ours:

a bungalow not quite two stories high;

a porch across its west-facing width;

a tiny attic over dormer bedrooms baked

in San José’s scalding sun. Only

my father’s study on the north side broke

the symmetry. That and, of course,

the tower, my mother’s one extravagance,

twinned by what she deemed plain common sense

linked to an instinct for self preservation:

that even in that tiny house

she put the parlor out of bounds. She called

it that, the “parlor,” not the living room.

We used it winter nights, but otherwise,

children were banned from its chintz repose.

And so the lower tower room became

our family room: just off the kitchen, where

our mother ruled, it kept us where she could

watch us, when we were young, though she missed much

of what passed there; since only yells or screams

could draw her from the stove or from the book

she read there at the kitchen table, or

the project for the Red Cross or the League

of Women Voters, we could play, Andy

and I, or he could quietly torment

me, undisturbed, unobserved.


On summer nights the tower’s upper floor

became our sleeping porch and refuge: Dad

would drag a mattress to the middle of the room

for him and Mom, while Andy and I

would grab the pillows from our beds,

and peering over them, trailing sheets

behind, we scampered down the hall

giddy with the excitement that comes from breaking

rules—to sleep without a bed?!—yet free

of guilt since Mom and Dad had told us to.

Slowing at the end of the hall, we paused

before I’d set one hand on the doorknob, cold

against my palm, its curved edge ridged,

the door opaquely dark above it

and below. Then I’d turn the knob,

and let the one door to the tower room

drift inward towards us. Not into the room,

but into the house, the stuffy hall, which was

by definition inside, inward, all

enclosed, walled in, boxed, lidded, shut.

The room beyond lay open to the night:

translucent darkness ambient, alive,

the air awash with currents into which

we waded soundlessly. The ocean of night

received us, our bodies and our breath,

extending endlessly before us, out

into the trees that grew in our yard,

     and the next, and beyond.

Released from routine into this best

of all imagined worlds, we escaped

the ties that bound us to each other’s darker sides.

Afloat on whispers and suppressed giggles,

we lay down singly on the cushioned bench

that wrapped the eight-sided room, but head to head,

     in a rare and precious truce. There,

on nights too hot to breathe, we could sleep,

ringed by windows opened wide to catch

the passing winds that lapped the shores

of our dreams, light as happiness, and

     as fleeting.

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