The last few months on my way to work I’ve been walking by a house being prepped for teardown. They sold the place and there was a succession of humble items from decades of living stacked on the curb. After the owners moved out, the demolition crews were on the site doing some little things like ripping out the screens from the porch, and making headway on some sort of excavation in the back of the house. But for a while now the site has been idle. The backhoe is still there but I haven’t seen a sign of any activity. I can only imagine that between freezing weather coming on and loss of financing the builder decided to pack it in until spring.
This is the second teardown I’ve seen in the past year or so, and what I noticed this second time was the stake the contractor puts up to keep the electric line connected to the street during the project. Particularly once this project stalled, there seemed something iconic to me about this pole put together from old scraps of wood, standing amidst some transformation put on hold.
There were many times when I’d walk past this project shaking my head at some horrible thing happening in the world. Particularly in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury no-decisions, the need to take action seemed so urgent, but hard to make a reality in our suburban bubble (however progressively minded and, at least once, ready to march some of us may be). I came to associate the stasis of the teardown site, sitting idle as fall turned into winter, with the difficulties I faced in reckoning with these problems for our country in any meaningful way that would lead to change. Out of this came a poem that I think of as a New Year’s resolution/retrospective, voicing my frustration at how hard it is to make efforts towards real change part of “our busy lives” and hope to do better in 2015.
Poetry Corner: Trying to evoke something of the ineffectual ceremony I saw in this electric pole on the teardown site, I was inspired by Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich and others to write using a somewhat archaic feeling caesura in each line. This turned out to be a big challenge for me since I normally write in blank verse lines that enjamb across multiple lines without strong mid-line breaks. I’m still glad to have tried this out as a way also to evoke the disconnection in our nation and world that has been so much on our minds this season.
Teardown in winter
Stripped from inside all shutters and shingles
30-year Duron green flashes tired leaves
A spray-painted arrow GAS HERE CUT LAST
Will show some field surgeon due any day
A motley tower sits ten feet of old plywood
It gathers the electric keeps the street line
Live through the demo then buzzing alone
And blazing worklights against the fresh frame
The cellar was dumped out dirt cords for a furnace
But the backhoe is folded its trailer splayed
Both bystanders now fueled up to wait
Their part in the tear-down stopped until spring
Now the house is stuck wet leaf-pasted cocoon
No caterpillar to transform no moth
To shudder off bearing the last year’s work
All its struggles thrown aloft as though new
So the year accumulates its tragedies
Still rolled in last month’s papers piled up
Beneath this electric maypole its current
Grounded, trickled out across a waiting earth
Copyright Josh Jacobs 2014