Saturday, February 18, 2012

Old Houses Speak in Hollow Whispers

At Real Toads, we are offered a selection of beautifully haunting photos taken by the talented Mary Ann Potter, of From the Starcatcher, including the gorgeous one above. Like Mary Ann, I am fascinated by the history carried within the walls of old houses. There is an old crumbling house at the end of Beaver Creek with a story. I am imagining most of it, but the two sisters in it are for real. I will go take a photo of it, maybe tomorrow, and will post it here later. Wish I had thought to take my camera today when I drove past.

Old houses
in hollow whispers.
This one
has its own
story to tell.

The roof is moldering
and sagging into itself.
The front steps are rotted
and all askew.
The door creaks
slowly open.
Dust motes dance and whirl
in the afternoon sun.
The rooms smell
as if a window
hasnt been opened
in twenty years.
There is the scent of mothballs,
and cats.

The stairs
groan in protest
under our unfamiliar feet.
They remember
laughing little boys and girls
pounding up and down,
sliding down the bannister.
On the walls are smudges and handprints,
cracked peeling wallpaper,
pale green, with  big pink cabbage roses.
Tattered and dusty mesh curtains
hang limply at filmy windows.
In the hallway,
up one side of the doorjamb,
back by the kitchen,
are penciled names:
William, Henry, Emily, Rose.

Upstairs, the small rooms
are filled with old iron bedsteads,
and remembered echoes
of whispered nighttime conversations
from a century ago,
when the world
was young.

Two elderly sisters lived here
from the time they were small.
They were young women in this house,
dressed in sprigged cotton,
sitting on the porch
on cool summer evenings.
The brothers came in to dinner
sweating and silent and sunburnt
from the haying.
Suitors, in time,
arrived on horseback
to pay their calls,
the young people sitting,
stiff and uncomfortable,
in the front parlour,
averting their eyes
and trying to think of
something to say,
teacups and saucers clinking
in their nervous hands.
How the sisters
whispered and giggled
to each other,
later, upstairs
those soft summer evenings
before sleep,
dreaming their innocent dreams.

But life had other plans.
Their father died, and then their mother.
The brothers married off.
The two sisters stayed on,
in the house
where they were grown,
and somehow,
in the daily routines
and passing of the quiet hours,
the life they had dreamed of
passed them by.
They would live out their days
in this shabby, downturning house.

Every evening,
all these years,
the two sisters have walked,
slowly, with their canes,
along this country road.
But last time we passed,
only one aged sister was left,
standing, staring,
at the end of the footpath,
watching her days
slowly wind themselves down,
one by one.

Soon, now,
the house will be
as it has not been
since it was built
somewhere around 1915.

how those echoes
will whisper
like disappointed ghosts
through all
the dusty, empty rooms.


  1. Exactly, precisely, wonderfully why I love abandoned houses and farms! Sherry, your poem opened up the doors of the old place so beautifully. Our farm here in rural Granville County, NC is close to so many places like this, all of them replete with stories. Thanks for your thoughtful, well-composed response to my photo!

  2. This was a haunting tale of a house once full of promise and hope, not so sad and despairing as you elogquently described it. Nice response to the picture prompt...Hope you are enjoying the light winter to almost spring season ~

  3. Makes one sad that "happily" could not last forever. Loved your story poem!

  4. Wonderfully done, Sherry. Your words brought to mind old houses in the Okanagan. We'd ride around on our bicycles and "explore" abandoned farmhouses. There were even abandoned log cabins in the hills. We'd try to figure out who had lived there, and why they had left, and why the houses and cabins were left to fall apart, along with barns and sheds.
    I love your take on this prompt.

  5. This is such a story.. you led us along an astonishingly detailed narrative thread, and left us standing in the road with the old woman, looking back on our own lives... Just amazing, Sherry!

    (PS. Do you know that your word verification is ON?)

  6. Wow, you really sucked me into their lives. The ending gave me chills, such disappointments in life, in the end left alone to die. How sad!

    Really loved this line:
    "pink cabbage roses"

    And the names on the wall, the midnight conversations, the courting that ended fruitless. Oh this was unhappy ending.


  7. So perfectly captured!

    Exactly as I saw it.....right before I wished to live there forever! ;)

    Lovely. Just lovely.

    Collage Pirate

  8. This is a movie....I loved the precise descriptions and the fullness of the visual and the story. Wow...loved it.

  9. If houses could speak, the stories they could tell eh!
    The history here, the love, sadness, aging. It's all here Sherry!
    What a fabulous picture you painted.

  10. I loved the poignant story you tell with this poem. It put me right there. The opening stanza grabbed me right in!

  11. Old houses have their stories and their secrets, as do (I am sure) the old sisters.

  12. I wonder if houses somehow absorb some of the energy of the lives that went on iside of them?

  13. This is beautifully captures the quiet dignity I see in those old houses. Really lovely.

  14. You have written a lovely story of this house. My family home was sold last year. I remember my last walk around the place and the tears I left behind.

  15. Houses of all kinds can be fascinating subjects for conjecture. Your poem takes full advantage of all the opportunities they offer. There are some splendid lines and images, but most of I thrilled over:-

    Upstairs, the small rooms
    are filled with old iron bedsteads,
    and remembered echoes
    of whispered nighttime conversations
    from a century ago,
    when the world
    was young.

    Just lovely!

  16. Aren't these old places great? Such an inspiration for poems.

  17. of whispered nighttime conversations
    from a century ago,
    when the world
    was young.


    and somehow,
    in the daily routines
    and passing of the quiet hours,
    the life they had dreamed of
    passed them by.

    Wow... what a switch in tone, but so beautifully done. I must go look to see if you posted a photo of this yet. Nicely, wonderfully done!


I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!