Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, FAREWELL TO FARGO: SELLING THE HOUSE, by KAREN SWENSON



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FAREWELL TO FARGO: SELLING THE HOUSE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Olivia is dying. Bring your best black dress
Last Line: Its spring and slams.
Subject(s): Death; Family Life; Property; Dead, The; Relatives; Possessions


Olivia is dying. Bring your best black dress.
There will be nothing to take back.
The red squirrels gnawed into all the trunks
and devoured everything in the attic.

The summons was rescinded. She still lives.
I have been called to a different funeral.

An ebony elephant. A china invalid's cup,
blue-and-white, fragile as the tremor of veins
warping an old hand. The dining-room table
that curves into clawed brass feet.

Little heaps of leftovers under plastic,
they stand isolated,
punctuation marks without our sentence.

The purchasers walk between them,
choosing what they will reincarnate.
I cannot bear the helplessness
of the objects dying from our lives.

Aimless as a mourner dismissed from the grave,
I wander out to the garage.
I climb the stairs to the loft.
There is a raw sound of scampering
in the dust before my footfalls.

I find Ferd's silver-capped cane
behind the lawn mower.
He died when I was in the second grade,
a fat man in a gilt frame.

Six daughters and two sons divisible
into workers, the greedy, and dreamers.

Ferd and Peter kept the store.
Olivia kept the books.
Elizabeth kept the house.

Ann painted roses on china
and grapes on canvas.
Claire, in a purple velvet gown,
played a gold harp.

Julia and Amelia moved after
the quarrel across town and
were only asked to funerals.

They've all gone to the wall, photographs,
leg-of-mutton sleeves
leaning on the porch rail.
Watch chains linked like beaded portieres.

There were rides on Sunday after mass,
parasols behind horses.
Sun-honed light above the wheat.

The prairie dust silted into every ruffle.
Then they trotted back to town,
to the house harrowed between the trees,
to dinner on the mahogany table,

eating out of the shine of their faces
while the Red River, a block away,
gnawed its banks roiling northward.

And what did they ride out to see? There is no
tree, no shrub, no rise of land on the plain.

One by one, they died upstairs
under the great arm of the elm
and were taken down in narrow chests,
bumping the turn of the banister.

Now only one remains, her mind
sieved by the years to pabulum, waiting
to be a name laid into the grass.
She does not know the house is sold.

I take the cane back to the house and
lay it on the dining-room table to be bought.

The purchasers are gone.
There is a storm coming.
I stand on the front step.

The elms hover over the emptied house.
Seeds snow down against the dark sky,
platelets spiraling in a quickening breeze.

Red squirrels on the roof quarrel
in the fevering silence. Chain lightning
shocks heaven into a jigsaw.

The screen door behind me screams
its spring and slams.





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