A Summer Place (1977)

Anne Stevenson

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links On

You know that house she called home,
so sleek, so clapboard-white,
that used to be some country jobber’s blight
or scab on our hill’s arm.
You can see the two cellars of the barn –
stones still squatting where the fellow stacked them.

He worked the place as a farm,
though how, with stones for soil, she never knew.
Partly she hoped he’d been a poet, too.
Why else hang Haystack mountain and its view
from northwest windows?
It was the view she bought it for. He’d gone.
The house sagged on its frame. The barns were down.

The use she saw for it was not to be
of use. A summer place. A lovely
setting where fine minds could graze
at leisure on long summer days
and gather books from bushes, phrase by phrase.
Work would be thought. A tractor bought for play
would scare unnecessary ugly scrub away.

A white gem set on a green silk glove
she bought and owned there.
And summers wore it, just as she would wear
each summer like a dress of sacred air,
until the house was half compounded of
foundations, beams and paint – half of her love.

She lived profoundly, felt, wrote from her heart,
knew each confessional songbird by its voice,
cloistered her garden with bee balm and fanning iris,
sat, stained by sunsets, in a vault of noise,
listening through cricket prayer for whitethroat,
hermit thrush. And couldn’t keep it out:
the shade of something wrong, a fear, a doubt.

As though she heard the house stir in its plaster,
stones depart unsteadily from walls,
the woods, unwatched, stretch out their roots like claws
and tear through careful fences, fiercer than saws.
Something alive lived under her mind-cropped pasture,
hated the house. Or worse, loved. Hungering after
its perfectly closed compactness.

She dreamed or daydreamed what it might have come to,
the house itself wanting the view
to take it, and the view’s love gathering into
brambles, tendrils, trunks of maples, needing
her every window, entering, seeding.
Fear of attack kept her from sleeping,
kept her awake in her white room, pacing, weeping.

But you see the place still stands there, pretty as new.
Whatever she thought the mountain and trees would do,
they did, and took her with them, and withdrew.

Learn more about the language of this poem in the
Oxford English Dictionary:

clapboard, n.