The House

This poem has a door, a locked door,
and curtains drawn against the day,
but at night the lights come on, one
in each room, and the neighbors swear
they hear music and the sound of dancing.
These days the neighbors will swear
to anything, but that is not why
the house is locked up and no one goes
in or out all day long; that is because
this is a poem first and a house only
at night when everyone should be asleep.
The milkman tries to stop at dawn,
for he has three frosty white bottles
to place by the back door, but his horse
shakes his head back and forth, and so
he passes on his way. The papers pile
up on the front porch until the rain
turns them into gray earth, and they run
down the stairs and say nothing
to anyone. Whoever made this house
had no idea of beauty -- it's all gray --
and no idea of what a happy family
needs on a day in spring when tulips
shout from their brown beds in the yard.
Back there the rows are thick with weeds,
stickers, choke grass, the place has gone
to soggy mulch, and the tools are hanging
unused from their hooks in the tool room.
Think of a marriage taking place at one
in the afternoon on a Sunday in June
in the stuffy front room. The dining table
is set for twenty, and the tall glasses
filled with red wine, the silver sparkling.
But no one is going in or out, not even
a priest in his long white skirt, or a boy
in pressed shorts, or a plumber with a fat bag.

by Philip Levine

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