Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Grace Paley / House: Some Instructions

House: Some Instructions

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If you have a house 
you must think about it all the time   
as you reside in the house so 
it must be a home in your mind 

you must ask yourself (wherever you are)   
have I closed the front door 

and the back door is often forgotten   
not against thieves necessarily 

but the wind   oh   if it blows   
either door open   then the heat 

the heat you’ve carefully nurtured   
with layers of dry hardwood 

and a couple of opposing green   
brought in to slow the fire 

as well as the little pilot light   
in the convenient gas backup 

all of that care will be mocked because   
you have not kept the house on your mind 

but these may actually be among   
the smallest concerns   for instance 

the house could be settling   you may   
notice the thin slanting line of light 

above the doors   you have to think about that   
luckily you have been paying attention 

the house’s dryness can be humidified   
with vaporizers in each room and pots 

of water on the woodstove   should you leave   
for the movies after dinner   ask yourself 

have I turned down the thermometer 
and moved all wood paper away from the stove 

the fiery result of excited distraction   
could be too horrible to describe 

now we should talk especially to Northerners   
of the freezing of the pipe   this can often 

be prevented by pumping water continuously   
through the baseboard heating system 

allowing the faucet to drip drip continuously   
day and night   you must think about the drains 

separately   in fact you should have established   
their essential contribution to the ordinary 

kitchen and toilet life of the house   
digging these drains deep into warm earth 

if it hasn’t snowed by mid-December you   
must cover them with hay   sometimes rugs 

and blankets have been used   do not be   
troubled by their monetary value 

as this is a regionally appreciated emergency   
you may tell your friends to consider 

your house as their own   that is   
if they do not wear outdoor shoes 

when thumping across the gleam of their poly- 
urethaned floors they must bring socks or slippers 

to your house as well   you must think   
of your house when you’re in it and 

when you’re visiting the superior cabinets   
and closets of others   when you approach 

your house in the late afternoon 
in any weather   green or white   you will catch 

sight first of its new aluminum snow-resistant   
roof and the reflections in the cracked windows 

its need in the last twenty-five years for paint   
which has created a lovely design 

in russet pink and brown   the colors of un- 
intentioned neglect   you must admire the way it does not 

(because of someone’s excellent decision 
sixty years ago) stand on the high ridge deforming 

the green profile of the hill but rests in the modesty   
of late middle age under the brow of the hill with 

its back to the dark hemlock forest looking steadily 
out for miles toward the cloud refiguring meadows and 

mountains of the next state   coming up the road 
by foot or auto the house can be addressed personally 

House!   in the excitement of work and travel to 
other people’s houses with their interesting improvements 

we thought of you often and spoke of your coziness 
in winter   your courage in wind and fire   your small 

airy rooms in humid summer   how you nestle in spring 
into the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn and the sage green 

leaves of the Russian olive tree   House!   you were not forgotten

Grace Paley
Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley. C
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000

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