Salt Lake City, 2015*
Like a tourist in my own childhood,
I wander the neighborhood of my youth.
It’s not quite a pilgrimage, as
pilgrims know what they’re looking for.
I stand at the flagstone fountain in the park
and gaze across the street
at the red brick bungalow
where my family lived until I was 13.
Am I supposed to intone something?
Summon a spirit? Or perhaps I’m the one
who’s been summoned. Ghost of myself.
On this spot, there’s the illusion of level ground,
but here at the northwest corner of this Victorian
mountain city, the ground slopes in every direction
if you walk a few yards. North up to the Wasatch,
east up to the Wasatch, south more gently but up again,
to the Wasatch, and west sharply down to the valley floor.
Set into the hillside, the house faces west.
A boarded-up plate glass window
makes it blind in one eye.
In the summer, from that window,
we could see postcard sunsets,
fiery light sinking into the Great Salt Lake.
In winter the gray stasis of inversion.
The old brass address plate—61—still hangs
Slightly crooked on the molding below the attic dormer.
The steep cement steps to the wide front porch
look worn by nostalgia.
My grandparents bought this house in 1938,
and sold it to my parents in 1957, so dad,
the English professor, could walk to work
at the U., a half block away. I was 1.
Double exposure. I can’t separate this view
From old photos and recollections.
There to the right on the parking strip,
I once hid under a giant cardboard box
when I knew my sister was walking back from campus.
As she got close, I jumped out,
causing a satisfyingly chilling scream.
She tried her best to be furious at me,
but we were both laughing too hard.
1946: Dad in black and white stands
to the left of the porch’s north column in his graduation gown,
his bachelor’s degree delayed seven years
by a Mormon mission to Scotland and World War II.
1955: all my siblings and all the children
of my mother’s sisters posed on the sweeping cement stairs
for an iconic black and white portrait. Only one missing:
Me. Not born yet. All those cousins
Sitting on my steps before I existed.
There must be a word in some language
for the feeling that gave me. I never could name it.
I start up the alley to the north side
to take a lap around the place.
The brick’s discolored and damaged
from a half-century’s growth of ivy,
recently stripped away, like skin where a tattoo’s been removed.
A picture I took in 1985 shows ivy completely covering the dim brick.
At night, a car turning up this alley would cast crazily
dancing lights on the ceiling
of my pitch-dark basement bedroom,
through this little porthole-size window.
My heart would race, knowing it meant my parents were home.
The cement walk alongside the house is crumbling
and has started to melt into the wild grass.
The next window, at the landing of the basement stairs
is where a black widow lived, encased in the space between
inner and outer panes. I used to study the red hourglass
on its abdomen, and tried to draw it.
Couldn’t get it right. Was better at artillery.
In the back, against this wall, an old radiator was standing, waiting for removal after home improvements.
It toppled over and landed on my brother’s foot.
Crutches for weeks. Bad luck, but maybe it inoculated
him. He’s still never had a broken bone.
Here behind the garage, the old crabapple tree still stands,
nurturing its sour but highly flingable fruit.
At its base a hamster lies buried.
The little side yard on the south looks the same,
though the old white trellis that I used to climb
when I was so tiny it would support my weight is gone.
Back to the ***** at the front of the house.
Leaving for school in the morning I would
leap this ***** in a single bound.
The old place looks creased and sleepy.
It doesn’t remember who I am,
is starting to fade into the past.
It’s only about half here.
The rest is memory and desire.
I know this is a bit long and discursive, but I hope you'll stay with it! If you want to see a photo of the house, go to the tumblr address on my home page.