ELEGY FOR SOME BEACH HOUSES
The break off Chatham broke and spilled
old homes into the sea, just spilled them
like dresser drawers pulled out too far,
quiet underthings sent flailing like old aunts
into the surf. Just seaside, just at the beach,
just where the generations had combed for
jingle shells, whelks, the unrecognizable
bones of fish. Just there, the houses tumbled,
like only a house can, full of argument, debris
and leftovers. Just there, the houses groaned
like only a house can, full of mouseshit, must,
armoires and settees, full of lobster trap
coffee tables, old letters, tattered rugs.
First the buckle of underpinnings, then the
hipbone joists, the planks, the studs. The walls
sighed like pages wanting to turn, illustrated
with photos of old dogs, children, words
like Beach, Happiness, Family painted on shingles.
There was tipping and buckling and the keening
of nails pulling out. A roof wanted to slide, whole,
into the sea, but failed, the ridgepole splintering.
Its backbone broken and all the bits finished,
the houses were quiet. The old china floated
a bit, small boats. Newspapers, books drifted.
Daily trappings went down fast—some lamps, buckets,
deck chairs. This is not to mention all that sinks
right off (a watch, jewelry left on the sill). The fish
looked as curiously as fish can look, bumped cold noses
against dolls, mirrors, dishtowels like seaweed in the dusted light,
turned sideways, finned off. Little housed mollusks
made no notice. The ocean settled and
breathed, wave, wave, wave.
—from Rattle #33, Summer 2010
Kerrin McCadden: “I wrote ‘Elegy for Some Beach Houses’ long after I left Cape Cod. I was home in the mountains of Vermont, thinking about the shifting shoreline, thinking about weeks on the Cape, and a history of families’ weeks on the Cape, and houses falling into the sea now, every year. This summer, there was a house hanging from a crane on a beach in Chatham. Its owner was trying to save it, but the piping plovers were nesting and the crane was not allowed to move until they fledged. The whole Cape watched—House vs. Seashore. Seashore seems to be winning.” (web)