The Woman in My House by Joan Colby

Five children died one summer under this roof.
Some epidemic—we don’t know. Cholera,
Typhoid, scarlet fever, the ordinary
Hard measles. Their small tombstones
Up the road enclosed by wrought iron,
Names eroding from granite.

When the old rafters creak in winter storms
Or the narrow stairs cry out beneath our footsteps,
It might be the mother weeping.
She must have planted the lilacs and bridal wreath.
She must have milked cows in the stanchions,
Walked the woodlot with an axe.

These jigsawed acres she received
While her brother got the prosperous farm.
This, I surmise, from county records,
How she eked out a sparse living.
The evidence of an old house,
Corn crib, chicken coop and barn.

The stone marker where her bones rest
For my consideration. No relative,
No friend, just a woman
Who grieved within these walls,
A shadow trespassing in the mirror.

Her sleeves rolled up as she labored
In the summer kitchen, now my office
Where I write this poem with a
November storm brewing. Her
Skirts still sweep the oak floors.
The plums on the dying tree
Once filled her jars. I can’t imagine
How she went on living.

They say a soul beset by grief
Can’t leave.
All this so long ago—
More than a hundred years.