at Length


—Page Hill Starzinger

This is a poem about a house.
Scratch that. This is about
a family. It might be yours.
Mother and father in matched single beds.
Siamese sprawled on the floor,
her kidneys giving out giving

When we sold the house,my father left the ice axe nailed to his study door: a handle,
long rusted snout hangingdown. Found on Mont Blanc.
How will I die: grasping the ice axe,
belay of strange falls.
How these things
scatter. A European climber’s
ice axe attached to the door of a professor’s study in a little yellow
clapboard house in a Vermont village.The daughter wants it back.
How many other people know
44 Elm Street has a dead climber’s axe from the Alps
as a door opener?
What will become of
the ice axe? Thrown
into a landfill, just
compacted waste density.
Opening nothing. Closing nothing.
Neither held nor looped. Worn
leather leash.
On the front door my father attached
a metal grip from his rowing shell.
Second hand, the boat was his second,
and he named it the same as his first,
which was called when he bought it
apó kanéna, Greek for “from no one.”
Back and forth, he rowed
the Connecticut River 20 miles a day,
10,105 times in his lifetime,
free of dams
for 30 miles. All without knowing how to swim.
You see, you can hang on
to wooden shells, they float,and someone will come save you.
This is his story;
his story is a family.
He was a political science teacher
who liked
history.Hand hold. Toe hold.
Google Earth Street Viewwill update and archive 44 Elm. How long? If
the house is torn down, will old photos still
be stored. How much can be saved.
In this town of Norwich,
after Norwich, Connecticut,spelled Norwhich in the charter,
pronounced Norritch at first
(like the English). Once home of the Abanaki
or Wabanaki, also People of the Dawn Land.
And what of the ways the wild deer and moose
called to it?


I said I wish we could keep the house, not to live in,
but to visit. No,
my father said, don’t do that, it’s not a good house. The basement
isn’t even a full basement. Rooms shelved with books, onion skin-paper encyclopedias:
you could see through words, rippling as they turned. Too scared of tearing, I left them alone.
Gold-embossed novels, too dense. My father always seemed



I planted annuals—
pansies, sweet peas, I don’t know what else;
flowering things you can change with the season, you thrust
your hands in the soil in spring and in fall;
countlessly the dirt rearranging itself,
respirating, filtering . . . .


A student remembers my father explaining natural law:

In The African Queen, Humphrey Bogart wakes up in the boat to see Katharine Hepburn dumping his gin into the river and he’s very upset. “It’s only natural, ma’am that a man should want to drink every now and then.” That’s one view of natural law. Hepburn says, “Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we are here to rise above.” That’s the other view.


I planted two baby fir treesat the east and west corners
at the edge
of a bank tumbling to meadow, Blood Brook rising to hills marked
by white-tailed deer and black bear.
Northward, the wind rustling and singing—
broken   choral       fugue.


About the routeover the Alps Hannibal took
to conquer Rome,
my father says,
Do you remember when
your mother and I were trying to find it?I’m reading all the books again.

All 21.       87 and has nowhere
to go. The doctors just took away his


What does he think when my mother calls him daddy.
When she thinks I’m his wife.

When she thinks their son is her husband.
Or when he says he’ll never

take an airplane again
or go to Iceland

or carry a wreath to the abandoned cemetery in the woods.

When he closed the office, he said goodbye to the seamstress next door.
You could go back, I said. I never go back, he said.

Once a moose loped down the driveway—all we saw were long legs, his head
so high. Did he go into the neighbor’s yard. Where did he go.

My father said:
Lots of people go to the symphony, they do things. We’re hermits.

He contracted a boat builder to panel my brother’s bedroom. And, eventually
my brother lived on a sailboat for 12 years.

My father’s right eye is overflowing. He left hip is convulsed. He marked
the graves of the cats with fake flowers on sticks. He knows exactly which bloom goes with Petra, Mischievous, Venus and Curious. . . .
The new owner has taken the     blossoms away. Hacked out old Dutchman’s Pipe vine (home to swallowtail butterfly), tangle of honeysuckle, low lilacs leaning over brush. She’s put up a tall deer fence.


Lying in a grassy hollow on Blood Hill,
my body covered in granite:
as I breathe, rocks rise and fall,
rolling off. Lungs
like a pair of anvils: repeating:
until almost free of weight—
gestatus.        Then,
I lay for a long time because I know
I probably can get up.


He rustles around in a drawer. He shows me a clock that’s broken.
In his pocket, there’s a watch that works.
Something about keeping track of time, I guess. Or
how difficult it is to keep the machinery in order. Or did he wantme to take the clock in.
Or was he just showing me things.


Is there anything I can do for you? I ask.
There’s nothing I need,
he says, just time.


        I guess this is a poem about
        growing.        I saw a small-scale vintage ladder-back chair in the barn.
        My brother said my father had bought it for my children,
        which I never had.
        My brother said, you should have it. I thought about it overnight. Could I live in my apartment with the chair, empty, without a child. No little baby. None. Not missing. Never there. Not. None. From the Middle French for the ninth hour (early 12th cent) i.e 3 pm and its etymon classical Latin nona (see NOON n): when time breaks you can feel it in your body at noon when half the day is done and again at 3 pm when you are going home. When time shifts something is over and cannot be brought back anymore. Irreparable. I decided I would have the child because I would have the chair. The chair was the child. I told my father I would like the chair but he said, Oh no, you don’t want this chair, he looked away. I said, Oh yes, I‘d like this chair. He didn’t look at me. He auctioned, with other furniture, the chair.


Caning is a flowering.
No caning is not a flowering.

No flowering is a caning.
No, no, caning is nothing of

A flowering. Nothing of. Not.
Nor a. No nother. Notherwise.

No noderways. Not Cane. Flow-
er is not. And Able. None o-

Other than mother. As for moth-
er caning. Nothir of her. Sit-

ting on the cane. Nodur.


The sun came up in the east—
this was her room, our room to share,
the door ajar
to let the cats roam free.        One day a raccoon
ambles in
and rushes out. She
inks wood block prints, writes poetry,
ties flies, needlepoints.

The living room was a bloom
of orchids,shaded,
cool air sifting through warped wood
sashes. Whirling sepals,
medial petals
and adnate filaments. Shades of celadon,
fuchsia, cream. Scent of
honey. Chocolate?

I thought it was all in our veins
until I remembered Louise’s greenhouse.
She ran my grandmother’s house—
that’s one way to put it—and left my mother with something
that became part of us.
Will I leave a part of myself
with others even ifI have no children.
flowers connected us backwards.
Mom and I chose huge blooming summer blossoms for chairs,
blue-of-the-sky for the floor in her bedroom.

Mother doesn’t want dates on the cemetery stone.
So you can’t tell when she was here and not.
But she didn’t ask us to delete her name.
Thrown in the river, her ashes, is what she wants.
Remember how she would hold the fish, feel them,
catch and run. Part of the seep of water and rocks.
It flows over us.It flows between us. . . . Not just a swerving, but a throwing back,
As if regret were in it and were

I’d like to carry her home,as if she is some other part of me—
lost, broken. Bent double,
she holds her palm up to mine.

She designed interiors but no one paid her so she stopped. One client gave her a sherry set.
She handcrafted paper-mache marionettes but no one paid her.
She wrote poems no one published.
She painted and sold some.
She wore each out.
She fly-fished until she lost her mind.
One of the last trips she and the guide were lost.
But they walked out
(she could still walk then).

How many times did she leave the house trying to walk home.

Weep-drop is based on an erroneous reading of wete droppesin 1876.      To weep (a thing) back: to
recover. . .extinguish

A reporter wrote on July 2010 of a silver haired woman
walking over the bridge between Norwich and Hanover weekday mornings:
her posture, her profile, symmetry of her perfectly wrapped
hair bun
on the nape of her neck. . . . I feel like she’s an old friend
even though I’ve never said a word to her.

They told the time of day by her, she walked
and walked in circles around the town, the house, the rooms. Now, pivoting
out of her black chariot.
Unraveled white strands

scatter in the wind

as storeys     collapse,crenellations & parapets shatter
she lives in between fractious
rubble and sings—a small voice like a child’s,sometimes humming, ascends blown-out stairs, calling for daddy.
Humorous the upper floores.
What space is there inbetwene and who interrupts.
Attic-story, chamber-storey, half-storey
This, post-classical Latin historia.
Where the guttes and entrails of the body. . . haue their

My notes
talk about   a white space to be built into.
That’s Carl Andre.
But I am thinking of Ana. They were wedded. Mendieta
—the silueta in which she lies in a rocky grave,
covers herself with sprays of small white flowers
a moment that passes—
blooms die
grave empties:
her work erased
but one photo
long after she falls
33 stories to
a rooftop
of a deli
in New York City.

I return after the furniture is gone
to see 44 Elm one last time:

doors opening to doors flung wide

imprint of rugs on worn oak floors

curve of chair against white walls

outline of couches & picture frames

row on row of book shelves,

emptied. All of the bird nests, feathers, rocks and small things

on the mantelpiece, gone. Five random locks,

I unfurl them, open up the front door,

and go to the side porches,

opening everything that’s not painted shut.
 For a while I realize
 it’s something I can do
 all by myself, with my own hands.

 And after I leave,you tell me about butterflies
that fly south
swerving over a lake
as if a tall ancient mountain
they couldn’t scale
was still there,

drinking nectar

of many sweet flowers

along the way.

Page Hill Starzinger lives in New York City. Her first full-length poetry book, Vestigial, selected by Lynn Emanuel to win the Barrow Street Book Prize, was published in Fall 2013. Her chapbook, Unshelter, selected by Mary Jo Bang as winner of the Noemi contest, was published in 2009. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Fence, West Branch, Pleiades, Volt, and many others.