Featured in Colorado Review
All the Old AnswersFeatured, Poetry
Published Fall 2019
Photo by Alexander Fink
When my great-uncle died, his children
held the wake in the old house,
the house he had grown up in, inherited,
and condemned in his will. He wanted
his house’s story to end when his did.
This was a selfishness I understood.
I’d read somewhere that no structure
is ever really finished, not while shingles
are still loosening into their rough patterns,
walls still learning the level of the earth.
While a building stands, anything
can happen in it: any pipe can leak,
any stranger break through a kitchen window
on a summer night. At the wake,
a cousin once removed told stories
about her father, and in every story
he was a different kind of man.
Then we took flashlights up to the attic,
where we found a trunk of military coats.
Pine marten skins in a plastic hatbox.
Old wooden bed-frames. A dozen
amateur portraits of a liver-and-white dog.
In a corner was a tiny dollhouse
shaped like the house we stood in,
down to the palm-sized rugs. Under a sheet
was a buffalo skull that looked so ragged,
it might have died before the years
of slaughter, back when no one thought
the wild could ever disappear, back when
even grasshoppers moved across the plain
like a cloud, stripping everything,
grass from the ground, fur from the animals’
throats. It’s as good as any other way
to think of history, a legion of beating creatures
that seem, from a distance, like one great storm.
I covered the furless skull with its sheet again.
I looked on the back of each portrait
in case the dog had a name. I took the dollhouse
for my future children. They’ll move
the little figures from room to room.
Emma Hine is the author of Stay Safe, which received the 2019 Kathryn A. Morton Prize and is forthcoming in January 2021 from Sarabande Books. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Southern Review, among others. Originally from Austin, Texas, she works at the Academy of American Poets and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She can also be found at emmahine.com.