American Life in Poetry: Column 727


One of my many peculiarities is a fascination with deserted places, especially old houses, and I've written far too many poems about them. But that doesn't mean that I don't love it when others take on their own depictions. This poem by Richard Jarrette, a Californian, takes on not only the description of an old house, but what might have happened there and what might happen anywhere. It's from his book The Beatitudes of Ekaterina, from Green Writers Press of Brattleboro, Vermont.


Abandoned house roofless three walls
no floor a ruin if you think house
to brown towhees a place to scratch
in the leaves for bugs and worms,
for the male to sing a territorial song
from what remains of the chimney—
an imagination problem like the time
friends said we must be very happy
in the beautiful house we built because
they couldn't see the ruins inside us.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Richard Jarrette, "Happiness," from The Beatitudes of Ekaterina, (Green Writers Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Richard Jarrette and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.