The House on Moscow Street

Marilyn Nelson

 
It's the ragged source of memory,
a tarpaper-shingled bungalow
whose floors tilt toward the porch,
whose back yard ends abruptly
in a weedy ravine. Nothing special:
a chain of three bedrooms
and a long side porch turned parlor
where my great-grandfather, Pomp, smoked
every evening over the news,
a long sunny kitchen
where Annie, his wife,
measured cornmeal,
dreaming through the window
across the ravine and up to Shelby Hill
where she had borne their spirited,
high-yellow brood.
In the middle bedroom's hard,
high antique double bed,
the ghost of Aunt Jane,
the laundress
who bought the house in 1872,
though I call with all my voices,
does not appear.
Nor does Pomp's ghost,
with whom one of my cousins believes
she once had a long and intimate
unspoken midnight talk.
He told her, though they'd never met,
that he loved her; promised
her raw widowhood would heal
without leaving a scar.
The conveniences in an enclosed corner
of the slant-floored back side porch
were the first indoor plumbing in town.
Aunt Jane put them in,
incurring the wrath of the woman
who lived in the big house next door.
Aunt Jane left the house
to Annie, whose mother she had known
as a slave on the plantation,
so Annie and Pomp could move their children
into town, down off Shelby Hill.
My grandmother, her brother, and five sisters
watched their faces change slowly
in the oval mirror on the wall outside the door
into teachers' faces, golden with respect.
Here Geneva, the randy sister,
damned their colleges,
daubing her quicksilver breasts
with gifts of perfume.
As much as love,
as much as a visit
to the grave of a known ancestor,
the homeplace moves me not to silence
but the righteous, praise Jesus song:
Oh, catfish and turnip greens,
hot-water cornbread and grits.
Oh, musty, much-underlined Bibles;
generations lost to be found,
to be found.
 
From The Homeplace, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1990 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Poems by This Author

Cachoeira by Marilyn Nelson
We slept, woke, breakfasted, and met the man
Churchgoing by Marilyn Nelson
The Lutherans sit stolidly in rows;
Daughters, 1900 by Marilyn Nelson
Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch,
Dusting by Marilyn Nelson
Thank you for these tiny
Little White Church by Marilyn Nelson
Us Free Will Baptists walked a thin tightwire
Mama's Promise by Marilyn Nelson
I have no answer to the blank inequity
Minor Miracle by Marilyn Nelson
Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood