My sister braved it last time it was for sale,
pretended she could buy it, would buy it,
took the tour, like some foreign agent,
trailing behind, listening to the new owner
as if he knew it as well as she did.
She went room to room with him, heard
the improvements he made, the hardwoods
he found under the carpeting, his urge
to get it back to its original state.
Downstairs, the kitchen’s been reshaped,
the problem pantry and back porch solved.
The dining room remains very much as it was,
as does the living room and study, though
he didn’t know it was a study; must never
have watched from the darkened hall
my father sit and read in his green chair,
never felt the uneasy reverence we felt,
the silence, the distance, the solemnity of it.
They walked up the three stairs in the front hall
to the landing, turned the corner and continued
up, her hand on the bannister we slid down
when we were young, strummed the slats,
I dusted between on Saturdays for my allowance.
At the top of the front stairs, she missed the gate
we lost years earlier when my brother
tore it off in a drunken rage, made a hole
when he flung it, about head high about half
the way down. It’s all gone now, patched over
years back, a touch of spackle, a bit of paint.
At the top of these stairs, just outside,
what was our parents’ bedroom would be
where my mother stood the night I called up
from the landing to tell her that the police
were at the door and my brother was dead
— along a highway, almost beyond recognition.
But on Liz’s tour, the most recent owner
didn’t miss a beat in his recounting of his efforts
to restore the place to former glory,
the sanding, the painting and the wallpaper,
the questions and guesses he made,
going after the builders’ original intentions.
He closed off the back stairs; my favorite place
to hide and spy on life, as if it weren’t mine.
And the attic is finished now — all its mystery,
all its shadows and lonely noises are gone —
tastefully covered into useful space.
Liz finished the tour, the actress she is,
kept in character till the end, discussed
the business of a house for sale, credibly,
stretched the last few moments as if it were
a serious consideration — to own an over-sized,
over-priced fixer-upper in the decaying
neighborhood of our childhood.