An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Rent

There were five houses over twenty years.
We lived almost a decade in one,
a mild, shallow winter in another.

We bartered work for rent in the last, the one
that had already been let go. Privet crowded
the porch, and a wall bowed into the parlor—abandoned

honey swollen inside it, the plaster crazed.
We would share that house with swallows
in the chimney, with the black rat snake

I'd find coiled in a basket of clothes,
or stretched out on the bed. Bumblebees
purred as though with content/ment under us

and spiders—seasonless—survived the broom
to live in every corner, their egg sacs hung
like soft, spun pearls. Every spring, the bedroom

filled with termites flying, having come up
from beneath the floor to mate and shed the brief
wings I swept up like confetti; committed,

they returned to a narrowing crawlspace
to feed their queen. I imagined her pale and thick
as my thumb, invalid, being fed the house,

birthing more of what would keep her fed.
When I worried the place would fall, you laughed
not in our lifetime. That was true. It stood

those years where it yet stands, where you remained
without me, living, you would claim,
another, finer life, nothing the same.

But I imagine the walls still disappear inside
themselves, vacant forms, and the house grows
lighter, a deceitful ruin that lingers, rising

longer than it should above you and the fertile
hunger that will, with enough time, consume it—
before going on to another survival.

 

Published in Late Wife (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005).

Published: 26 October 2009
© 2009 Claudia Emerson and Southern Spaces