Black and white photo of family standing in yard of home

Suburban Triptych


No house outlasts its hill.
Here, especially, fifty years will see
bones, the basement scar,
something in its place.

But for now the half-moons of the hammer’s miss
could have been carpentered yesterday;
kernels of resin sweated from joists,
still soft to the thumbnail, shine.
In the room where the well probes the hill’s heart
the tank, full of taking, sweats.
The furnace waits, one thing on its mind.


Excavating for a septic tank,
my father shovels a rock from eight feet down.
“That’s never been touched by human hands.”
I hold it aloft: for history,
the cold white thing from genesis.

Green algae, heavy hair
we pitchfork from the pond by wagon-loads.
In a week it dries to nothing, to stink.
Too many turtles, my father hooks one, clips
off its head with pruning shears, tosses
the astonished body on the compost heap.
Our garden yields a crop of trilobite
and sea-worm (already dreaming stone
when glaciers crushed their seabed into soil):
dead ringers for the fat tomato worms
we hunt. In the green immediate
they burst and soak into thirsty dirt.


Past grass, past banjo legs of insects
into loam; six inches down, moraine;
then, lodged in the towering clay,
deep in the hill’s dome, be still:

You hear small gravel. Burrowing.
Then nothing.
a breathing other than your own,
so slow
the breathing in
continues from one glacier to the next.

John Barr

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