Vacancy Inspection: Woodsboro Pike
Frederick County, Maryland
I imagine her at these windows, looking
out at fields in neat rows under a thin muslin
of snow a week into the new year, emerging
soft into the May air, ready for the combine
in early November. She would know how
the scene changes over the year, the exact
angle at which the spring sun pulls the crops
up out of the soil, how the summer heat
ripples above the greening soybeans, how
the shadows lengthen after Halloween
and the tourists and commuters no longer
stop for apples and pumpkins at the farm
across the road. I imagine her sitting on her
front porch gazing at the hills Maryland
calls mountains, arching round and low,
slumbering in the blue haze distance.
I picture her giving away more eggs than
she sells from the coop behind the garage
where the swifts come and go from nests
built since the people and the chickens left.
I open the garage door to enter and a pair
of swept wings, all points and angles
and speed, bursts in with me and circles
franticly for the way out, orbiting my head
and the dead air inside, its twittering protests
loud and panicked, until it shoots through
the rectangle of light in the doorway and flits
up and out over the back fallows, dissolving
into the tree line just past the train tracks.
I recall the pigeon that found its way into
our house the week my wife and I moved in,
my father telling us how it was good luck.
I imagine a woman in this house watching
the dark miles of road, waiting for headlights
to slow and turn at her mailbox late at night,
for the last rays of sunlight to reach back
over the Catoctins, for the afternoon wind
to pick up ahead of dark skies approaching.
Vacancy Inspection: Tydings Road
He moved everything he needed downstairs to the first floor,
the house a corpse, its organs pulled by gravity closer to earth,
sinking through the body cavity of walls and framework ribs,
bedrooms drained of life like collapsed lungs. He’d become
a malignancy the house could not sustain, draining resources
like a cancer. He lived on squirt-can EZ Cheeze, peanut butter
out of the jar, and crushed ephedrine pills in the kitchen cabinet.
Empty Coors and energy drink bottles, cigarette filters
and ash litter the folding card table in the breakfast nook.
The sinks and toilets have been winterized, body-bagged
in cellophane and blue painter’s tape. The dead-battery
dirge-beeps of smoke detectors: sound of a house flatlining.
On the kitchen counter where grimy dishes sit stacked like
shelf fungus, a hand-written note: I love you daddy merry
Christmas. Big hugs love you! Some of the furniture has leaked
out onto the front lawn, piled by cleanup crews for hauling away.
Sunset slants into the front room, its warm amber arranged
neatly through the window frame into squares and arched
half-circles on the opposite wall. In the foyer, a hard-drive
tower, shoes and work boots, a dried bouquet of roses,
unopened envelopes from the bank sent through registered
mail. Next to a mattress on the living room floor, a stack
of textbooks on financial management supports a carton
of half-eaten, dried lo mein and an open bottle of Coke.
Across the street, a woman arrives home from work, shoulders
her laptop bag, cradles groceries through her front door, ignores
the carcass among her neighbors rotting in plain sight.
Vacancy Inspection, Green Valley Road, Keymar, Maryland
Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn
Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm
—John Mellencamp, ‘Rain on the Scarecrow’
A small American flag stuck in a fencepost by the road hangs in tatters,
disintegrated white stripes and stars rotted out from a blue field now the color
of nightfall; the few red stripes left, once the color of blood, droop, aged and faded
to pewter and tin. Delicate Queen Anne’s lace, milkweed and chicory, lambsquarter
and horseweed, dark pokeweed berries and crimson spears of curly dock all riot
unchecked in the wrecked tangle of horse pasture out back by the barn. The
insurgent wild claims its caliphate amidst the neighbors’ manicured fields.
Ashen, warped fence boards crack in the sun; weeds spill through the fence
where the plywood shed leans at angles toward the ground.
There is no hay in the barn save for straw strewn about; horseshit’s left in a few
piles in corners—a parting gift to the creditors. The door swings wide to the air
and wind, nothing left alive inside to shelter from weather or predators. Rabbit
hutches bent and empty, stalls’ floors swept and dry. A fishing net resting
on a line of nails on the wall; BB gun collecting dust on a work bench. A red
Radio Flyer wagon still as a corpse sits where it was last towed, the child’s
laughter long since disembarked. Cowboy boots worked sweat-soft and dingy
slouch on a shelf next to a baling hook. An old liquid fire extinguisher tank
rusts in a corner. Up in the hayloft, a tire swing sways gently like a pendulum
in the warm breeze through gaps in the slat walls and warped tin roof,
measuring the slow tic of abandonment, the half-life of memory.
Pushing past the broken patio door: piles of clothing and toys and countertop
appliances in the basement, dumped there for the last haul in their flight away
from the disaster. Bare rooms upstairs, the calendar on the kitchen wall last
turned to a new month five years ago, dates circled, times, places, and peoples’
names scribbled in squares they never got to cross off. Unfinished kitchen remodel,
leather bomber coat slumped on a chair, boots and shoes on the floor of the closet
by the front door. The earth twirled and traveled through space and the money
dried up. The house became the bank’s and the animals and humans all had to go.
What remains: a thudding hush, cobwebs across the basement stairwell, the smell
of stillness. A flag on a fencepost the color of bruises, the color of shrapnel.