First glance says clean, pristine. No twigs
on the mowed lawn, two rose bushes bloom
in the flowerbed. Fresh mulch.
Inside, every surface clear and empty. No dust.
No drain board in the kitchen, no knickknacks
or canisters on the counter, not even a sugar bowl.
Tops of dressers shine, built-in bookcases
with no books. I say to the Realtor, “No one lives here.
It doesn’t smell like anyone lives here.” He nods,
his job. Even the extra room with a sewing machine
open on a table has nothing else left out. No pins
or bin of tools. Another empty table. No signs
of people living. But open the closet and shirts—
all seemingly the same style—squeezed together,
hanging in a crowd. Shelves stacked with fabrics.
Closets full. Rolled up towels, rows of pants
and skirts, shoes in plastic boxes. Refrigerator
with lettuce and fruit. Nothing furred. No sign
of pets or children’s toys. Outside back, the same order.
Someone must spend all days off cleaning, picking
up, combing grass. Between the trees, a driveway
to the house next door. Same neatness. Another
FOR SALE sign. “Move-in condition.” Fresh paint,
new flooring. I imagine a juicy story of people
who know how to get along and live well,
Two houses Priced to Sell!
We move on to look at others—too small, no trees,
cluster of new homes never occupied, on parched
ground in sunlight. We end up at a home that seems
abandoned. Weeds in the front behind short fencing
where someone once tended flowers. A dry fountain
fed a manmade stream, small bridge above dry leaves,
the arbor’s honeysuckle so overgrown, we have to stoop
to reach the door. On the porch a shattered light bulb.
Work shoes, laces tied. Inside, almost no furniture.
Papers scattered on the living room floor, as if someone
left in a hurry to get away. Snack table, one old easy chair
facing a bulky TV that blocks the gas fireplace.
On one wall of the living room, an amateur mural
of a willow tree, hand-painted. Each leaf a careful
brush stroke. Every room nearly empty of furnishings,
scattered with broken bits of plastic containers spilling
more papers. Nothing stacked or sorted. A single mattress
on the floor of a back bedroom, sheets a-tangle.
“The wife left and took all the furniture,” I say.
“That’s how they do,” my Realtor says.
So hard to see the floors and cabinets, to pay attention
to the size of rooms, see what charm or warmth
lies beyond the clutter, what this house could be.
Bathrooms dirty, clothes piled on the washer,
an open package of tortillas on the counter.
No sign of children or a plan for living.
We walk around to the back yard and deck.
A groundhog stands up, then dashes under
the storage shed. Crushed cardboard in the weeds,
gas cans, propane tanks bloom next to a travel trailer
filled with what? “Now we know why she left.”
Foreclosure, short sell, short marriage.
The market’s down and hasn’t yet hit bottom.
—from Rattle #37, Summer 2012