INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER

If the door has blown closed, open it.

You do not need a key.

Feed the birds.

There is seed in the blue jar.

 

Pick the apples, eat the cherries.

Make wine from the grapes.

Do not eat the yellow pears

for they are bitter.

 

The garden is full

of deep green weeds.

Cook them in oil.

They will make you strong.

 

When dew shines on the leaves

go out and wet your feet.

The copper basin holds rainwater

to wash your hair.

 

Milk the goats

at sunrise and sunset.

Drink what you like

and make the cheese.

 

The dogs will kiss

you awake.

The cats will sing

you to sleep.

 

They will tell you

what they wish to eat.

They will tell you

what to dream.

 

At midnight,

the owls will come.

The great gray owl

will speak. Listen.

TIME IS A STRANGE THING

TIME IS A STRANGE THING

At times I get up in the middle of the night and stop all the clocks, all of them.

~Hugo von Hofmannsthal, from Die Rosenkavalier

 

She stops the clocks

to hear the silence

defined by their tick and chime.

One must not fear the time.

 

She stops the needle,

and feels the space beyond

that only the compass knows.

That’s the place she goes.

 

May 17, 2017

THE DIARIES OF ELLA WARNER FISHER

Here is the last of the Sheldon Museum poems. This is a “found” poem made up of entries from the diary of Mrs. Fisher, a Vermont poet who lived from 1853-1937. I’ve been reading and blogging her diaries for years. Most of the diaries are in the archive at the Sheldon.

 

THE DIARIES OF ELLA WARNER FISHER

Mop, mend, make pies, bathe the children.

A burden to be unequally yoked.

Dig up a lily and plant it in the yard.

Every day subject to the same blight.

A beautiful day, long to be remembered.

Gertrude has mumps.  Mop and mend.

Henry cleans harness in the kitchen.

All attend service but Helen and Grace.

War bread, two meatless meals.

Anna & Henrietta go to the woods for flowers.

Tuttle takes down the stove.

Mend the stockings.  Make mince pies.

Henry carries Grace to her school.

Terrible fighting in France.

Gingham comes for Henrietta.

Ruth and I kill and dress two hens.

Dreaming among my poems.

Letters from Ashton and Helen.

Sick headache.  Go down street.

Anna receives a silver spoon.

A hateful wind blowing.

My boy, my poor boy!

They of the few, the tried and true.

Benjamin and Tuttle bring the body home.

Rain.  The white washing piled in chairs,

stark as so many ghosts.

PORTRAIT OF DAVID NICHOLS, ARTIST UNKNOWN

 

Here’s another of the Sheldon Museum poems, this one about a portrait of an extraordinarily handsome man that hangs upstairs in the Sheldon’s office space. There are a few letters of his in the archives, too.  He died fairly young, in Paris. One woman who viewed the portrait was heard to say, “He could only have been shot by a jealous husband.”  

PORTRAIT OF DAVID NICHOLS, ARTIST UNKNOWN

What is the use of a person’s living if he can’t enjoy himself? 

None! say I–and if one can’t enjoy themselves 

when they are in the bloom of life, 

when can they?

~D. N. in a letter to Dugald Stewart, Dec. 28, 1841

Did I meet your ghost in Paris–

slim shadow brushing by that night

on the street in Montmartre?

 

I like the way you look at me

after all these years.

 

That rose that fell

from the balcony in Pigalle

and landed at my feet–did it drop

from your long  fantomatique

fingers? Maybe it was your esprit

murmuring compliments

in terrible French as I sunned

in a green chair in the Tuileries.

Your breath on my neck while I lingered

in the café drinking red wine

and watching the moon . . .

 

I want to run my hands through your hair,

trace the shape of your long nose.

 

Was it your spectre I glimpsed, waving

an immaculate handkerchief

from the Arc de Triomphe?

I’m glad you died

in Paris.  Vermont was too small

for your élégance, exubérance,

“real Yankee” though you claimed to be.

It was “utterly impossible to raise a dance”

here in winter, and I cannot imagine

you in Vermont, in winter,  not dancing.

There’s something about the gleam

in your eye and–oh, I don’t know–

your Mona Lisa smile.

NOTES CONCERNING THE PETRIFIED INDIAN BOY

 

This is another of the poems that I wrote for an exhibit at the Henry Sheldon Museum. And here’s a link to an article about the exhibit.  

 

 

NOTES CONCERNING THE PETRIFIED INDIAN BOY

Henry’s Accession Book. . indicates Leland gave it to museum for safe keeping —

“It was left with him by Woodard. . .

who sold it to parties near here.”

~email from Liz Bless, Middlebury College

History is a cob-web,

a tangle of strands,

flakes and pigments, letters

and scraps stashed in

baskets and chests of drawers.

It’s a pellet of feathers and hair.

Pick it apart with a finger bone.

 

Here, in the file concerning

the Petrified Indian Boy, we find:

bird tracks at Turners Falls,

a rabbit hole, a dog name Boz,

George Parsons the carriage painter,

credulous crowds,

a great deal of money,

a hundred barrels of whisky,

a flight to Canada, the law,

and Mrs. Sarah Henry Cross of Brandon

who saw it at the fair.

 

Was it a broken-off toe, or a crack in the ankle

that revealed the truth?

Did Mr. Parsons know of the Cardiff Giant?

Why did Mr. Harwood visit Newfane?

What happened to the whiskey?

Who brought the Boy to which express office?

Who was Mr. Douglas, who

bought the image for an immense sum?

Did Mr. Brainerd, scientist and historian,

president of Middlebury College

know the local men who raised the money

and did he himself contribute?

Where did Mr. Leland get it?

Safekeeping from what?

How much did Henry Sheldon know?

 

In the meantime, the Boy

in his coffin in the Museum

has slept away the years,

keeping his secret silent as stone,

or plaster, or pigmented clay.

KEEPING–a Sheldon Museum Poem

Three years ago, the Spring St. Poets wrote poems about objects in the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, Vermont. The items were then exhibited, along with the poems, and we did a reading. I wrote this one about a chunk of woodwork that Henry Sheldon had rescued, presumably from some renovation done at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.   

 

KEEPING

~the carving from St. Stephens, found in a cupboard in the barn

One autumn day many years ago I stole

an antique book with a tan leather cover

embossed in gold. The thin pages smelt of mice.

It was in a pile of many heaped

in a corner in a muddled room

on the condemned third floor of a gothic

sandstone castle awaiting remodeling

including–and this is important–new wiring.

It was a building I loved.

When spring came, it all burned up.

Nothing remained but a stone shell and they

bulldozed that into the foundation hole

and built a garage on the spot. I wish

I had taken all the books.

Henry Sheldon would have–

and a juice glass from the dining room and

a candlestick and the pump organ and

a chunk of the chapel window woodwork

and the horsehair sofa from the library

and the doughnut jar from the kitchen and

the mantlepiece from the common room and

the shield that hung above it and the tower

bell that fell and no one ever found and

a railing from the front porch where we used

to sit in the moonlight and sing or kiss.

What is this about? —

to love places, to care about things, to care

what happens to them, to be wary of change,

to want to remember, to want everyone

to remember, to believe that history

matters, to want to keep something, keep many

things, the everyday bits:

shoes and razors and appleboxes and doorframes,

chairs and violins and cupboards and spinning wheels

and dishes and cannonballs and hacksaws and drums

and books that no one will ever read.