Sep. 21, 2002

The House at the End of the Road

by Kelly Cherry

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Poem: "The House at the End of the Road," by Kelly Cherry from Rising Venus (Louisiana State University Press).

The House at the End of the Road

           We are here
in this house
      at the end of the road,
behind the sand hill on Route 29,

          and because it's warm
today it doesn't matter
     that the windows are broken,
cardboard panes checkerboard the January light

        and the portable heater
leaks kerosene onto the claptrap floor.
     Your face, now fallen from its screen-star (you could have
       been) splendor,
shocks me almost into speechlessness

        but we manage
the How-Are-You, the We've-Gotten-Older, the
     How-Long-Has-It-Been-Let's-See-Six-Years-Isn't-It lines,
and then you say,

        reprising an old role, But what did it mean
to be a member of our family?-and
     your stagy gaze, your flying hair
and clenched fists,

        the way you still,
at this pitifully late date, try to dominate
     by a confusion of contemptuous condescension
and Only-You-Can-Understand-Me laughter—

        drawing me into a secret circle
no one else can penetrate-makes me
     want to cry, makes me mask myself
in stock phrases, classic as Antigone, and

        I hold myself, when
you take me in your arms and hold me, your sister,
     apart, I hold myself delicately apart,
        I shut my eyes and pretend

     my skin is not touching
yours, my hand patting your shoulder (a threadbare sweater, no
     Theban shield) is
     somebody else's comforting hand,
          I am not here

          in this house,
the front yard blossoming with mud,
     the Doberman standing guard by the ditch,
          the cold sun planted overhead
               like a gravestone
                    in the cemetery of the sky.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen, born in Montreal, Canada (1934). Judy Collins sang his song Suzanne, and others of his include Sisters of Mercy and Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye.

It's the birthday of Sir Allen Lane, the founder of the Penguin Books, Ltd. publishing house. He was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England (1903, sometimes 1902).

It's the birthday of translator and literary historian Sir Edmund Gosse, born in London, England (1849). Through his translations, he introduced the works of Henrick Ibsen to English readers.

It's the birthday of science-fiction writer H. G. Wells, born in Bromley, Kent, England (1866). He wrote The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. He was the son of domestic servants who were constantly fighting poverty. He got a scholarship when he was eighteen to study biology, and he eventually became a science teacher. He married his cousin and then ran off with one of his students. The same year, he published his first novel, The Time Machine (1895), about a scientist who develops a time machine and travels to the future, discovering that people have exchanged knowledge for a dull yet pleasurable life. It was a great success. He continued to produce science-fiction novels, most dealing with the end of man's existence, including The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. His later books were more political and less literary. He said he would rather be called a journalist than an artist.

It's the birthday of Stephen King, born in Portland, Maine (1947). He was credited with reviving horror-fiction in the 20th century. He began writing when he was eighteen, selling stories to pulp magazines for thirty-five cents. He put himself through college. He went to school during the day and worked in a mill at nights. After college he pumped gas, worked in another mill, and in an industrial laundry because he couldn't get a teaching job. His well-known novels include Carrie, his first, The Shining, Firestarter, and Misery. He says that most of his plots come from nightmares. He said, "There's terror on top, the finest emotion any writer can induce; then horror; and, on the very lowest level of all, the gag instinct of revulsion. Naturally, I'll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn't work, I'll try to horrify you, and if I can't make it there, I'll try to gross you out. I'm not proud."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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