Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Kept House

I wrote this poem soon after we bought our first house, in Mesa, Arizona. I think it reflects my feelings about living in and taking care of a place that, for the first time, was mine. It's a little...uh...something, so don't freak out.

A Kept House


I try not to go too long between times.
I know I should do it more, but I can only manage so much.
Sometimes I get tired, I’m so busy.

Mostly I like it.
I like how I feel afterwards.

Sometimes just a quickie is all I can manage.
Other times I take it slow, don’t worry about getting through.

Here’s how I do it—

I go from room to room.
I start with the big areas, high up.
Long strokes.
Not too hard, but not flipping the cloth around either.
Firm. A little slow.
I keep special cloths and oils
that I wipe on.

The wide top shelf
The faces of the cupboards
The ridges down the back of the piano
The spines of books

Think of it this way:

The house and everything in it, they say something about you.
They perform a service.
So now you take care of them.
Pride in ownership.
Protecting your investments.
Your part of the bargain.
Your sphere.

I anoint each precious object.
It’s mine and I touch every part of it.

I move down—
always go top to bottom—
The keyboard, in its ridges
The bottom lip of the picture frame
The curves of the rocker

Then I get into the hidden parts.
The places other people don’t even know are there,
but I do see.
Inside the window ledge
The back side of the blind
Under the vase
Lightswitches and handles and drawer pulls

You have to know the right spots, where the dust collects, where you need it most.

It used to be awkward—
where to start,
how hard to rub.
Now we have a routine.
The rhythm can carry me along even if I’m not paying attention, but I try to anyway.
It’s better that way.
Now I know crevices and folds that no one else does.
The crook behind the door
The crease between wall and lintel
The line
across the mantel

I slide my finger down the groove of the windowsill.
I own it clean.
Now it’s mine.


  1. That is really beautiful. That is poetry I can understand and get behind. It makes me feel fresh and clean. I'm a little freaky about cleaning, actually.

  2. Dusting is one of my least favorite household tasks, but if I could write an ode to laundry, I would.

  3. Uh.....something indeed......ummmm......

  4. Enough to make a mother proud. I hear myself in those words. I hoped, but never expected to hear them in quite such a poetic manner.