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“Dramatic, Spanish Built Custom Colonial” by Derek Mong

Spring 2008, Volume 32, Number 1

Dramatic, Spanish Built Custom Coloniala

~Pride of Ownership~
8544 Timber Trail
Brecksville, Ohiob

For showings, offers, and consultations contact: Silvana DiBiase @ 216.347.9990

fireplaced, wall to wall carpet
Great Rme
fireplace, wall to wall carpet
balcony/deck, wood floors, pantryg
wall to wall carpet, window treatment
Master Bdrm
balcony/deck, skylight, fully carpeted
ceiling fan, wall to wall carpet
wood floors

Lot Dimensions 110×560
Total SqFt: 4000
Year Built: 1990
Construction: Existingk

a The architecture reminded my father of California: those arid summers he spent lounging in the gardens of the Carmel Mission, afternoons walking home from school, his fingertips running over the stucco fences. But this was Ohio, further north than the Spanish cared to settle and certainly too cold. No explanation ever came for why the previous owners (young retirees) had planted this anomaly in the suburbs. My friends called it la hacienda, or simply Taco Bell. Our neighbors directed their out-of-town guests to count the number of driveways between “Franco’s villa” and their own two-story Tudor. By the time my brother swapped his associate’s degree for bachelor-hood in Seattle, my parents were ready to move. I’d already left for Ann Arbor. They flung the double doors open and readied the property for sale. They’d lived there 2,932 days and counting. Many of the rooms were already bare.

b Brecksville rests approximately 13.2 miles south of Cleveland and keeps its population hovering just above 12,000. At the height of our residency we contributed four persons of voting age, one dog, one cat, and a few too many houseplants. There are 186 highway miles between Timber Trail and Ann Arbor. This translates to just under three hours of driving. I don’t know how many miles it is to Seattle, but when I called my brother last night, he said it was far; something like 2,000 miles. I could barely hear him over a bus stop drone and what, through the receiver, I assumed to be rain.

c Not counting the fireplace, the living room covered 340 square feet, which, approximating the ceiling height at ten feet, contained 3,400 cubic feet of air. These dimensions include a patch of sunlight that our cat followed across the carpet, relocating every hour or so to reoccupy what she’d squatted and claimed. And then there was a draft; blustery through
the fireplace, it lingered at the ankles. Items left out: one upright piano passed down along my mother’s side; one violin (recently sold) on which I played Mozart’s Requiem; one mahogany table for which, admittedly, there never was any room.

d Although a decorative touch in most contemporary, upper-class homes, the fireplace once provided the focal point for a family’s evening. Before central heat or cable television, the churning logs offered both warmth and a lively spot to rest one’s gaze. Some scholars contend that narrative itself sprang from a need to provide voice (be it speech, song, or snicker) to the rolling crackle of wood and smoke. Our fireplace operated on a gas spigot.

e In her study of the sonnet Phillis Levin notes that “In Italian, the word stanza means ‘room,’” a point which justifies this conceit: “Since [the sonnet’s] overall dimensions and circumference do not change, whatever occurs within that space will always be determined to some degree by its size and haunted by the presence of its former occupants” (xxxviii). Through these terms, sonnet writing takes on an air of filling up, of words carefully poured into a predetermined container. For some reason I think of a martini falling over green olives, to gently fill its unique, conical glass. Is that glass how one might perceive an empty stanza? Are the ghosts of former sonnets like a hint of lipstick lingering on the rim? Levin continues, “Even if we remove some of the furniture, the marks will still be there to remind us of how things were positioned in the past.” I think I like the martini better.

f Fourteen hundred and ten square feet: enough for one couch (plaid upholstery, untorn); its matching loveseat (throw pillows included); one coffee table, chipped from collisions and shins; one set Encyclopedia Britannica; two reading lamps, 60 watts each. When we moved in 1996, my brother and I lugged the couches from the U-Haul and dropped them into the carpet grooves left by the former owner’s sofas. It took a month for their scent to dissipate, a mix of oatmeal, Pinesol, and antiseptic.

g Included here: pizza trays and cooking sheets, canned goods stocked like a munitions dump, one unused breadbox, steak knives, a ceramic flower vase. Last among the rooms you evacuate remains the kitchen, where on the final night before you move it’s custom to eat Chinese takeout among the hedgerows of cardboard. Our family did the opposite, munching on a local favorite (Frankie’s Wok) after we moved in, only to find a family of raccoons sniffing our sweet and sour pork through the screen doors. For years the former residents had fed them, by hand, on Fridays. The neighbors told us as much when we picked up the morning paper.

h In my first sonnet the narrator (i.e. myself ) wanders naked into the dining room:

…The house was empty. Somewhere in the fridge, I found a pear sliced up in fourths and chilled to its seeds. I slipped some jam on a plate, poured milk, and carried it all on a smut novel I took to the carpet. There I lay near a window, the fruit so luscious and cold I let it run down my face. A drop plopped on the page and sat there, bubbled like a glass bead, enlarging one word — lush. I’d already showered by the time my family returned, the sweet scent of pear rinsed from my body.

I remember the satisfaction I felt as the lines accumulated, falling in step like fence posts, before turning, ever so dutifully, around a familiar plot of land. Whether justified or not, when I reached the fourteenth line I thought myself a tenant in what Donne called “a little world made cunningly.” I had somehow made it mine. Did it matter that the events described above never happened? I took one deep breath and read the poem out loud.

i In the 289 square feet of my parents’ bedroom, there were two nightstands where their reading glasses slept, one rocking chair for neckties, and a mini-TV, crackling like a fire. In all the years they slept together, I wonder how often their lungs recycled the air above their heads? A healthy human lung can take in upwards of two-fifths a cubic foot of air. Thus, it would require a combined 7,225 breaths to filter out whatever air filled the room before they arrived. That’s 3,612 breaths a piece, or roughly 72 minutes worth of air. Therefore, it can be assumed that within their first night in the bedroom they circulated enough air to claim the space as their own. As a reference point, the reading of your average sonnet requires the expulsion of 1.25 cubic feet of air.

j The evening before I moved out I unrolled a sleeping bag in what had become my empty room and practiced my breathing. The bedframe had been reduced to an after-image of nicks running knee-high across one wall. The closets were bare, the wood floor chilly without the brown rug we’d all agreed might as well get tossed. At first I could barely hear myself above the night’s trembling: crickets in the backyard grass, jackpines swaying drunkenly in the breeze. Then the faintest echo rose from the room’s corners, only to fall after each of my exhalations. This was the reverb of my breathing. In the dark, in the rhythm of my filling lungs, I felt my bedroom walls begin to sag and settle on my chest. Within five hours I would circulate the 156 cubic feet of air which buttressed the walls. This is enough air for well over 100 sonnets.

k In his poem “Borges and I,” Frank Bidart writes, “We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed.” I have never written a sonnet about my empty house, but I can see the images, real as if they’d been written down, rising up before me: the sinks I let my bloody nose drip into, rainwater sluicing out a gutter spout, smoke from my father’s outdoor fires. He’d light them at dusk, burn a few bill stubs as the sun went down, then watch the smoke whisper over our stucco walls before sailing on, light as an after-thought, into the evening sky.

Derek Mong will be the 2008-2010 Axton Poetry Fellow at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. His poetry, translations, and prose can be found in The Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Missouri Review, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts and conducts a monthly writing workshop at Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home in Austerlitz, New York.


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