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Then

Spencer Reece
I was a full-time house sitter. I had no title.
I lived in a farmhouse, on a small hill,
surrounded by 100 acres. All was still.
The fields were in a government program
that paid farmers to abandon them. Perfect.

I overlooked Union Lake, a small lake,
with a small ugly island in the middle--
a sort of mistake, a cluster of dead elms
encircled by marsh, resembling a smear
of oil paint left to congeal on a palette.

Pesticides farmers sprayed on their crops
over the years had drained into the lake
and made the water black, the fish shake.
About the family that built the house
I knew nothing. Built in 1865,

perhaps they came after the Civil War?
It was a simple house. Two stories.
Six rooms. Every wall crooked.
Before the house, Indians camped there.
If you listened you could hear them.

On Sunday afternoons in early June,
the sun would burnish the interiors.
Shafts of light fell across the rooms.
An old gray cat sparred his mote-swirls.
Up a tiny staircase, ladder steep, 

I was often found, adrift, half asleep.
I forgot words, where I lived, my dreams.
Mirrors around the house, those streams,
ran out of gossip. The walls absorbed me. 
There was every indication I was safe there.

Outside, children sang, sweetening the air:
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream . . .
their fingers marrying each other with ease
as the dark built its scaffolding above the trees.

Peonies spoiled, dye ran from their centers.
Often, the lawn was covered by a fine soft rain.
Days disappeared as quickly as they came.
The children receded. The moon rose.
Cows paused on the wild green plain

of all that land still left uncommercialized.
Three years I had there. Alone. At peace.
Often I awoke as the light began to cease.
The house breathed and shook like a lover
as I took for myself time needed to recover.

Poem from The Clerk's Tale, reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Company

Poem from The Clerk's Tale, reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Company

Spencer Reece

by this poet

poem
I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier, 
selling suits to men I call "Sir."
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped--
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English
poem

After my mother and father fight, my father takes my hand and we walk down to the Mississippi where he smokes Camel cigarettes. He flicks his ashes away from me. He rarely says my name. All day on TV, I watch monks in Saigon douse themselves in gasoline and light their saffron robes on fire. When they ignite, they

poem
I remember the ponies in the distance.
I remember you talked of a war, no two wars, a failed marriage--
discretely, without force or grandeur.
This was before they amputated your leg, before the stroke.
You rolled your r’s, spoke of Oxford,
recalled driving in the Quaker ambulance unit in China,
where you