Ingrid Wendt: Moving the House

Copyright © 1967, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 by Ingrid Wendt. Foreword copyright © 1980 by William Stafford. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

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To My Mother and Father


Foreword: "Meeting What Comes," William Stafford


For Years
Moving the House
Starting from Scratch
The Old Woman in the Attic


Cabot Lake, August 29,1978
How Columbus Might Have Felt
Dry Land in May, Oregon to Montana
Another Move
Feeling Dry
Oregon Coast, Devil's Elbow
Two Joys of Traveling


Pregnant Onion
The Lady on the Cover of Family Circle
Portrait of the Poet as a Young Bitch
Another Kind of Skin
After Goodnight
In the Next Room
Learning to Breathe
Having Given Birth
Remembering Breughel's "Massacre of the Innocents"
Gifts from Erin, Age 4

Meeting What Comes

Ingrid Wendt's poems are eventful in a special way. The language holds the reader steady with a wide, clear gaze toward realizations about change in the conditions of the individual life. These realizations are not just announced. They are demonstrated through bold images that come around as if by magic to enforce what the poet sees.

Moving the House: imagine anything more appropriate for these poerns about facing change. As this book goes along, that facing of change leads to the accepting of new neighborhoods that loom just from moving from place to place in the world-and then leads to the transforming of personal relationships and even the inevitable changing of identity as experience shapes any individual. And in the final section of the book a special kind of changing identity emerges from poems about motherhood, about the mother archetype, and about growing up with and away from a child.

Ingrid Wendt has a combination of characteristics that brings richness to such poems. She combines warmth with clarity. What she sees, she fully sees, and meets, ready to bring her whole life along into what happens. But this clarity, this absolute recognition, goes along with a realization of kinship. Her nature does not disclaim common humanity with those others so clearly seen.

There are many poets who see and recoil from and castigate the ills and disappointments around them. There are many who turn away from that vision and croon their illusions. But this poet retains the readiness to live -- to move the house if necessary --, and to construct a neighborhood in the world as it is.

If this claim for her poetry seems too glowing, just turn to the first lines on page one: "For years this conscious dissembling. . ." And the ending of this poem: "Unwilling/. . .to know/the whole time what she could build/ up from again." This poem alone declares the theme of the book, the challenge to those "insured against choices you didn't believe/ you had. . ."

The language of these poems lifts immediately into the gear needed for the content. The title poem begins with the line, "What we hadn't intended to do" -- and goes on with a rush into a clutter of actions; but by the end of the poem that first line has arched all the way over the clutter into the lines of perception and acceptance: "we couldn't escape from by running away/ or back home." Between these parts, with a minimum of surface effort, the lines offer a range of experiences, from sly incursions of irony ("tearing/ off a roof we said would be/ back up in a month") to great swoops of perspective ("Looking through want-ads, instead/ of a high chair/ House").

My impulse is to ask readers to read my favorites. Try that wide-eyed, welcoming, but flinching, poem "Another Kind of Skin." Try the extremes in "Having Given Birth":

      When she sleeps
      at my breast, I become
      the oldest person
      I have ever known

      I am younger than I can remember.

Try "Learning to Breathe," and share

      spaces we grew in
      pulsing somewhere around us
      in this air

      we take for granted
      pulling us closer

-William Stafford
Lake Oswego, Oregon 1979



For Years

(Knobcone Pine: named for the armor-like knobs on cones which are able to keep their vitality a half century after the tree dies, and release their seeds only with the heat of a forest fire.)

For years this conscious dissembling.
Moving from room to room in the same
house, insisting
the house was different, the landscape
demanded some new response: forest,
desert, the climate of politics, neighbors,
arrangements of limits you planned to fit into
like curtains, furniture, books, what wouldn't go
on the shelves, the shelves you wanted
to build.
             Each time
insured against choices you didn't believe
you had: a woman
refusing to stand
firm as a Knobcone Pine for years
its seed dependent on fire. Unwilling
to cut anything down, to know
the whole time what she could build
up from again.


Moving the House

What we hadn't intended to do

Looking through want ads, instead
of a high chair

       House: To be moved or torn down.
       Best offer.

The only
offer: ours.

Two months preparing, tearing
off a roof we said would be
back up in a month, the siding
back on before winter,

shrubs struggled
out of their beds, dug into
an empty lot.

Three years we
didn't know we were signing

our hands away
into hammering, clutter, dust,

our need for shelter
we couldn't escape from by running away
or back home.



Old houses have the most

It ticks out of the walls
like seconds
Arrogant tourists, attracting
only their own

Speaking loudly in corners
under tables, beds

Whichever way the wind
happens to blow
It's not the rest of the world we track in

It s us
When the heater is on

When we rub
moving from room to room
this simple air up
this simple, worn-out, top layer of wall
The one who cleans, knows:

                                            it's what
you could order your life

            getting dressed to eat breakfast
for strength to finish the cleaning in time to shop
for clothes to wear to work to earn money
for food to eat
for strength to wash the dishes
to wash the clothes to wear to bed to get enough rest
to get the cleaning done
Ah, to clean and pretend it was nothing

Ah, in their house
to let them pretend it was nothing

Ah, to pretend to each other
you aren't
pretending at all
Facing it:

"What did you do today?"

"What can you show for it?"
Days I was in school
Mother cleaning everything we didn't
do Saturdays:

                      shelves where clean
dishes went, insides of windows I never
saw anyone touch

light bulbs on ceilings, tops
of doorframes, windowframes, curtain rods
backs of every last picture on the wall
Dust wouldn't be
dust forever

It mixes with something when no one
not even TV is looking

Indiscriminate as sin
it clings
to cracks between baseboard
and floor, to bathroom walls, kitchen walls
doors of cupboards, ceilings, cracks
around door knobs, stove knobs, faucets, chrome the length
of the sink, of the stove, of the edge
of anger

The sponge of our knowledge useless against it

Mother, years it took me to guess
you knew all this

Your Saturday helper dusting her
own room, living room, dining room, den

All this she hadn't expected
to notice
to care about

It ticks out of the walls
like lives
before us

The walls won't
hold them
any more.



Nothing is the same after this.
Walls you have trusted in storms, in quarrels
now you put up yourself. Four inches
of two-inch-wide posts, filled in with paper.
A cover of plywood. More paper. Thin
layer of siding, out and in. Doors
in five minutes hung on their hinges.
Windows held in with glue.

Nothing is not
re-examined. Houses
you've iived in before, transformed
with paint, wallpaper, plaster. Neighbors
essentially different from you.
What keeps you apart.
The whole borrowed assumption of strength.


Starting from Scratch

To begin with, none of your neighbors began here.
Everyone moved in years before you moved into
a pattern you found yourself part of
before you intended: flowers, fences,
attention to details your mother always took care of,
duller than film on dishes it was always your job to wipe.
Nobody spoke about courage.

Nobody said you could choose this life.
It happened, it didn't, the fact
you could choose to remain would become
what's yours to control: hours
of sleeping and waking, meals, the home
you need to go out in the world from.
Neighborhood customs you know you can count on.

Recipes, grapes exchanged for zucchini, the garden
someone will know when to plant.
The book you suggest. The pattern of limits
no one has asked for, told over coffee, lives
like yours you could have become
starting from scratch. Each day
the way you will live before what comes next.




A moment of rest is a moment lost
unless resting is part of the plan, her schedule
each day shifted around hours the store knows
her husband will work.
He's up for promotion.
In five years their house will double in value.
The new baby is due in December.

If there's a right way to do it, she'll find it.
All things have a purpose. The products
her husband stocks, come back home: a chain
of Pampers and greeting cards, aspirin, cosmetics, what
everyone needs to get by. Ideas
she'll clip from magazines, two dozen handmade
gifts for Christmas even Labor Day isn't
too soon to begin: picture frames, salt
shakers, serving trays recycled from PayLess
display shelves cut
to size, sanded, stained.
Holly Hobbies and Santas, chipmunks, mice
traced on and colored with felt-tip pens.
Tole painted flowers. Hearts. Birds. New designs
she invents each day while her daughter
naps. Each night fights sleep, the desire
to give more life to her work
to keep more for herself. Already
her breakfast nook walls are full.

Things are as they are. The eldest
of five, it's her job to remember all
birthdays of relatives only her mother
knew. To remember to ask the pastor home
on Sunday, on Friday her husband's boss and his wife.
The cut flowers. The placecards
What not to discuss.
The parents she lost before she was thirty,
estate hers to settle, garage sale
long-distance, the lawyers. The mother-in-law
relocated finally after the mugging.
The sleep she is trying to will.


She tells me she can't complain. Her son
comes to see her each day after work.
Mornings at nine a lady she's never met phones
to ask how she is, volunteering how Jesus has sent her
some new man to marry. If Jesus approves,
my neighbor says, then he must be all right. At my age
you're just glad to wake up each morning.

Windowshades open so no one will worry, she lies
back down on the couch, controlling
what's hers to control: game shows, talk shows, more
than enough time of knowing what's next.
How to be ready. How not
to be walked over. Someone still may
take her to lunch, to the store.
Her earrings will stay on all day.

Whole years she collects like her buttons,
coins, stamps, the scars she tells me
cover her middle, a network
of teflon tubes from heart to knees,
half her stomach removed,
the doctor won't let her bend over.
The husband she lost when she was the one
in the wheelchair. His collection
of Jim Beam bottles shelved floor
to ceiling, a corner she won't iet
pain stop her from dusting. Her windowsills
full of antique insulators from telephone poles:
robin's-egg-blue glass balls perched over her sink.
Rainbows of storybook cut-glass slipper ready
for whatever sun neighbors' trees will allow.

Her own trees she says will never outlive her.
The plum her husband planted, had to come down.
Blossoms stuck to her drive. The fruit
cars smashed came onto her rug, her roses
weren't growing and now
the fir tree her mother planted is rooted too shallow.
The top is too high, it might blow down
some night on her house
or maybe on ours. For years she's sworn
she will cut it down first.


Eighty-five years.
She knows by now
they can get on without her:
the daughter, her own children grown
come back to keep house. The house
full again every October, a gust
of birthday callers, wondering loudly how
she still walks each week to the library
one mile each way, prunes
dead limbs from trees on a stepladder
shells pinto beans from her garden enough
for a grand-daughter's family's winter.

Winter matters.
Rain frets her indoors until spring,
knowing what's planted, returns.
Forsythia bushes, nasturtiums and poppies
bulb roots she lifts and divides, re-plants
like echoes of low chords
only her fingers reach.
The fine black soil in a hum.
The whole back yard become garden.
The turned-over years of cuttings, leaves, grass
she spades under by hand, knowing
tillers would kill the worms.

Knowing what time of the month to plant.
What the moon pulls up with itself.
What the darkness holds.


The Old Woman in the Attic

The old woman in the attic came with the house

                      whose house? which attic?

hiding behind a panel you used to want
some house some day to have: a secret
passage for slaves or Nancy Drew

                      which attic? whose house?

a passage rusted shut between walls opening
from bookcases, paintings, things you wouldn't

                      this house doesn't have any attic

Still, the old woman: nightly
over your bed the stairs creaking

                      in dream in waking the spider
                      on the pillow you wake up
                      expecting to see
                      impossible in the dark

because someone, the son
of your next door neighbor has been sneaking her food
nightly: removing the screen from the window

                      but this isn't the house

in the dining room no one
ever uses

                      house of friends where you camped
                      upstairs, euerything you owned in their
                      garage, newly lovers, never
                      intending to stay

sneaking her bits of food
from your own kitchen

                      house you first/just married found you too
                      not just your mother loued flowers planted
                      primula calendula stock you knew had one year
                      to go before the house was torn down for
                      the road to Yosemite

nightly: from your kitchen so little
you'll never miss it but then she
doesn't need that much, sitting straight
mannequinned in her chair growing thinner, her dress
long fallen in between her knees, her knees smooth
fence posts, you couldn't hug her if you tried

And creaking again, the stairs
the old woman all winter and you never
suspecting a thing, the stairs you are sure
are dreams

                      creaking your aunt coming up to tuck
                      you in her back room cluttered
                      with things your own mother never would own
                      the window fluffed white curtains any one
                      who wanted could see through

But the screen this morning is open
and climbing through you climb
the secret passage, find her
alone as an answer, a mirror
of light from the dormer window spreading
around her shoes

You cradle her like kindling down
to the kitchen, settle her
between your husband, children, trying
to hug her, to tell her
it's really all right

To say, if you had to steal from us
at least you could have gotten fat.



Cabot Lake, August 29, 1978

Here, there is no tomorrow and if
this campfire waves like seaweed,
no book will name what kind.

Someone else years ago named
this lake, and left. This morning
below us it catches reflections of leaves, the song

of the water ouzel breaking
the air like flight, its plain grey body bouncing
up and down on a rock like a fisherman's bobber

on water, the fish on the other end
dancing in time to music
only fish hear. If anything

here is certain, our dog
ahead on the trail was almost
snatched by a hawk. Deer last night

passed our tent, their hooves on twigs
snapping us out of sleep.
We cling to images

fragile as days we used to be sure of,
forgetting we have already forgotten
what needs to be done, to be known

beyond doubt. Above us, trapped
in an angle of trees, one
spiderweb holds a film of sun

like oil holds rain on cement,
bluer than indigo, purple
and green irridescently mixed among threads

like a kite between telephone poles or even
a shipwrecked jellyfish, tentacles gone, an upside-
down rudder along its back

in my mind becoming
a miniature sundial no one
would ever be able to read.


How Columbus Might Have Felt

Forty miles South of Bend, Oregon,
where the rusty plateau rises
a thousand feet and almost levels off,
fir trees stretch thin and farther apart,
you never see squirrels at all.

Rain when it comes dissolves all
the soil, red lava dust
left too thin to grow
anything new or bury it.

Here there's a place where the road shivers
before it goes on.
Nothing on the other side rises
to tell us it's there. The sky is
blue clear down to its feet.

Here we are
stuck with the trees
and our broken-down car and our dog like pins
on the side of a cushion feeling
on top of it all,
the last living
things. Our final wish,

sunlight we drink so fast
it burns
all the way down.


Dry Land in May, Oregon to Montana


As if this rushing car were not
enough, your outstretched arm
begs motion, chops

the outer air so gorged
with light one
can see clear

through those shallow
greens, through wheat
combed thin above

the muted earth
and through your eyes
onto a surface vast

as the edge of the sky
you say you hung
from somewhere

over Idaho, practicing war,
strapped to the wings
on your pocket and to the silver

wings bearing you straight
as your orders
to victory.


Now not even crows
cross this land
which bears no thought

for pity, neither for
the giving nor
the receiving of it.

Nor do we
find direction.
The last road

sign is twenty miles past.
And between
that windmill

silent on our right
and this grey mule
loving the corner

of a broken-
backed tree, where
is that?


Together at last
and running off
alone, we are

caught without
limits, reaching through
a land we would like

to be strange to
and aren't.
Our lives are full

of the dust of it.
We have known
of such sky

from our birth.
The question here is not
"should our land fail"

or if that farmer riding red on the horizon
knows escape

but whether being human
takes something
less or some

thing more than this tremendous
push for the edge
of a darkness empty

as light: whether it is
enough to teil you I
am here. I am

here. Which is all I
or anyone
can say.


Another Move

This time there's no escaping it:
you miss (God help you) everything
you thought you wanted to leave.

Even the clouds of the driest Sierra
for weeks the same
distant reminders of just
how much sky sunlight can fill.

This time the pass you've come through
is already twisted from sight.

Green sliding into green easily,
silently as deer feed
in brush close as moss
closing paths private
as floors of honeycombs.

Wounds you'd thought had healed
switch open like knives.

The air you carve
is your own.


Feeling Dry

To want to write, but to lack words.
More accurately, to lack some
thing to feel.

This unpainted
desk, cars outside
proving themselves on the hill,
smoke from burning fields
slipping unnoticed under the sun
until someone drowns
in his own breath.
To listen for some wind.

To feel responsible for listening
and to be unmoved, an air sock
limp as an unfilled dunce's cap
waiting some change in the weather,
something full as the river
you fished last weekend
without luck

and then swimming saw
the whitefish
grazing on stones

the flickering trout steady
as mobiles suspended
on more levels
than you thought water
could contain.


Oregon Coast, Devil's Elbow

As only in books
things happen, I stand
in the cove (where the only
way out is back
over the rock)

Tired from crossings
in arabesques (as though
it must be done
in style) grossly
reaped fields,
stale buffalo land,
Tetons ribboned
in ice.

Blinded greens
by sun on high moss, the waves
islands of kelp, race
to catch cliff-
spilled tiaras.

My breath is
calm as the gull
rocked above me
on moss-held

There is no
going back.
No need
to go on.


Two Joys of Traveling

I move
to keep things whole.

-Mark Strand


Options we'd never
dreamed of, alternate
lives so well begun
there's no space for anyone
else to enter

These needs to become what we never could be
like hidden teeth
of stones, ripped loose
from pockets we saved them in

Scattered all over the road.


Like finding an old piece of music, a friend
whose finer points
repetition had dulled

Returning home
we find ourselves.



Pregnant Onion

If beauty should
hide its beginnings, its purpose, this plant
is too obvious.

Part of it always
returns. Your neighbor
moving, unable to take the new starts
you gave her. Your own parent bulb
dying for lack of sun.

Once you supposed it was ugly.
Leaves, limp chlorophyll highways only the sun
traveled. Spokes
of a wheel, the inedible hub
protruding from soil taking over
the pot in your mother's
kitchen, taking
the knife to itself
monthly: the layers of skin,
like tears the silent Caesarians, twins,
triplets green and already rooted.

"Pregnant Onion" you found it was called
in a magazine, finding
you had to correct your mother, who always
called it "Ancestor Plant"
because her mother had one,
seven aunts each on her own
husband's berry farm, still
speaking German
in Michigan, repotting
messages out
of translation, bulbs shared
like assurance, advice, what drew
infection: one leaf
crushed under a bandage.
What couldn't be spoken: your aunt
each month in a dark
closet, sponging out shame. No word
for something more proud than "endure."

One word you find yourself wanting to share
with your daughter, her sliver
like magic removed. The question
of where she has come from,
the dreams she doesn't yet know
she will have
to swell right under her skin.


The Lady on the Cover of Family Circle

isn't with her family or anyone
else by this time, except you
know she's waiting
for something: leaning

expectant against the white
wrought iron railing, the garden
you'd never know she works in off
to her right, to her left the house
where maybe her family waits

for her
to become what she got
through her day for: the moment
when none of her daily life shows.

Notice her dress, that's part
of it, how long it took to embroider all
those flowers from neck to waist to floor.

Notice her hair, her careful
eyes, the gloss
on her lips, cheeks, untouched
by the steam of dishes or diapers or
ironing or bathing and planning just right so
it won't all fall apart.

Nothing surprises her. Not weather,
dirt, husband, herself.
Her children obey her like keys.

See how she watches you, waiting
to see if you will
notice her disdain,
her knowledge that once you do
notice her there
is nothing left for her to do,

there is no one
left to respect.


Portrait of the Poet as a Young Bitch

A nice girl like her in this mess.
Always in debt she's writing from hand to mouth
stealing moments for lines like bread
from her husband, daughter, herself. Whole days
she isn't there at all.

Days when she is she pays for it
with sleep. The interest piles up
over her head, poems like dreams
alarm clocks won't let her remember.

These things she discovers women before
her knew and never were able to
name, their needs sticking out
like porcupine quills, no one
could get close enough to help.

These images filling her mind like the house
she'll never catch up on, the indecent
places they appear: dishwater,
tubs full of diapers, sheets
slick with sperm.

When they don't wash out she
stuffs them in the pantry like nuts.
By summer their edges have molded.
Nothing ever fits.

These things she would like to believe
are good and hasn't hear anyone say: over-
due periods she'll worry
out like a loose tooth: outlines
of lives like hers she hasn't seen
herself in until now. One hand between
her breasts, the other
between her teeth, she'll write
to make an honest woman of herself.


Another Kind of Skin

Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin. . .
- Anne Sexton

She hurts herself like ice
like the gloveless hands of a child
making snowballs too long
                                         her hands
so long patting herself into what
she has planned to become

the shape of a woman perfect
as snowflakes

as only she knows herself
to be: so prepared for anything new
bad luck can't touch her any more
good luck doesn't exist

as she perceives it and she
trusts nothing to instinct

herself least of all

the family she balances even as tops
each day spinning out
from her thinking there
is something more

the tears she refuses them once
so heavy they could have broken
her jaw: ground
polished and sold
for parts of the world's
most intricate clocks

stitched fashionably closed like pockets.

The only knowledge she wants
to forget and can't:

                             that she
is becoming in spite of herself the mother
she never was
able to love

taking care that no one can
survive without
what she does, and what

she does she could do
with her eyes closed to everyone
else, herself


That she will survive
no one
can tell her.

You love her.

You want to
give her something.


You know before you arrive
all her vases
will be broken.



for Barbara Drake

(The region in space where the gravitational field of one celestial body ends, or is neutralized by that of another.)

Barbara, this new book of yours I put
off reading until
there was more time or I had
enough sleep to stay up late some night or

more to the point until I felt I could afford
losing even
for one hour whatever hold I've managed
to get on the difference between

and waking, my life
and others' like yours which on
the surface of things reflect
the same concerns: writing, teaching,

mothering children who will someday try
to eclipse us if
they haven't already begun: the child

each of us still brings to each poem believing
first of all in her self. Barbara,

last night late when everyone else
was asleep for hours, I got up
to read your poems. The half-moon
you could also have seen in your own
time zone so bright I almost
didn't turn on the lamp
but I did,
got a glass
of wine, began

to read straight through from the very
first page, straight through until surely
it should have been almost morning, your poems
reflecting each
on the other, a whole
constellation of purpose asserting itself
as firm as clusters of mussels I've seen rooted each
to each to rock when the tide
is unexpectedly low and even
the moon is aghast

at the depth of its own
possibilities, last night

passed neither forwards
nor back. I know,

because last night's moon,
that lopsided egg, balanced in
the topmost branches of our next-door neighbors~
tree, stayed
right where it was

from page one to the end

and, although this no doubt is not
what you intended,

I knew I
would stay up until breakfast.


After Goodnight

Kathy, last night by mistake
when you thought you were
alone, you thought the rest

of us had gone to our tent
and the bushes
were closer than the john

I didn't intend to watch
you pee, only wait
for your safe return

from darkness, firelight
tugging the shadows trees left
behind you when

you squatted, not knowing
your thighs would pick up light

your buttocks, thighs all
of a single unexpected curve
would open the darkness, a moon

a vision of myself like you
alone so many nights before
with my own awkwardness, hoping
no one else would see

(my own vision fixed on
keeping my pants' cuffs dry, on weeds
just dry enough to itch)
all the while perhaps like you:

clean and firm and sure
of myself as the softly polished
grip of a bone-handled



Like the nervous eye of a mother
the squad car's spotlight switches

dry lawns and finds
no one

outside her bedroom minutes
before: knuckles

fingers on glass, fading,
mocking roots

of a tree she almost
remembers, the bank

of the river collapsed
under a sky traced with what might be

spider webs holding two
lovers as they held each other imagining

branches of roots laced tightly
with nests of small

birds. She
is a woman no one

has caught. Fear
gathers itself to her lap, shells

cracking in darkness: what
she should have

known, was too sure
of herself

to believe: this darkness
that now must be given a name, must

give permission again
to sleep with both eyes closed.



Like dunes she's funneled through
her hands
                the muscles
of his back uncover
Mesa Verde
                    Green Table
where the sun-hardened homes
of Indians doubled under
a canyon rim and
for tourists
                 flare in sun
like teeth
               or bones
of a newly opened



for Kathy, my sister

What you have been learning for years,
the gift itself less than that
you give it: wind chimes white
and fractured, pieced in a chain
your love of ocean
hanging from a heat vent miles
below your Santa Barbara home.

Empty on the beach you find them still
each time returning your feet
crusted with tar. At your doorstep
ready, a can of mineral spirits, paper
towels. The fact
he is dead. The meaning of never
a wave that will not
break, returns

returns, how you said
once you were ready for anything
saying now, little
did I know

the weekend he left and I lost
my job, my car
broke down
I thought that
was the end of the world.


This scraping the edge of sleep, nights
in my own bed, happening
also to me: the message certain
before I am told, the scream
I can't get into the phone,
the sister who will not

                    Your voice
that will not waken him
ever, his body you never
saw except
as in this dream, those probable wounds
raw as the smile you put on for the phone.
Your own scream frozen
just this side of its echo.


Everyday life again. Yes,
absurd these people
you pass on the street
laughing. What
do they know? The sun
rises and sets, grass grows
in its season. Polite
conversation a surface you have to
think your way out of, the effort
of not
phoning to ask him what happened: did
he see it, the tractor without lights,
does he know how
you wish you had been there
with him instead of
standing this morning
in this doorway with this well-
meaning neighbor, her patient
greeting reflecting
your own. Her gaze surprised
at nothing, hoping
for better
weather in such
a way
you almost believe her.

Later, your letters.
Night after night this vigil
for the self, the prodigal feelings, ways
it could have been. Alone you
chant them, a litany over
and over, imagine a dictionary full
of wildflowers pressed between pages
waiting wax paper, a frame,
waiting to be named. The person
you were before him.


Broken, the moment
slips and is gone. Guilty,
thinking of something else.
Mattering. Nothing

is changed.
Nothing remains
untouched. Your body

now forcing this bike to the beach
top speed, your lungs intent
as mollusks out
of water, the next
breath on the next
corner, racing
the light, the car
beside you, the next
stretch of sand
water line shifted
again, the tide
going out, the next
the next
the next.


What everyone says
you need, you know goes
without saying. Time
is a Kleenex, the grief
you carefully empty from pockets
each washday
each week a little
less. What he
would have wanted.
What doesn't fall

         This quilt
you made while he
was away. Look. the blue
velvet skirt Mother made you
one Christmas, red satin pieced
out of your savings. The stitching
is strong, by machine. It will last
any number of lovers who will
not know because
you will not tell them
what you have made
of this
for yourself,
for yourself first
of all.


In the Next Room

In the next room the mourners -- daughter,
sons, my own
husband in between walls of neighbors,
flowers brighter than Mother's Day ever
had been: gladioli
and roses, chrysanthemums out
of season, flaming beyond any need to preserve,
to bear intention, witness, what always is
beyond control.

Unnoticed for now I have gone for coffee, returned
as far as this other doorway, another old woman
two days alone: a stem
of ceiling light over her pillow, her story
that doesn't begin, her silence saying
nothing can touch her, stranger,
here you can look all you want.

Old woman, your name is Bessie
or Emma or Bertha, Cora,
Nellie, Selma or Gottlieben like
my grandmother, plucked from Sulzbach
to root in Michigan, dying
before I was born: dim face starched above satin
in albums, in voile Sunday best
beneath the tree in what was once her
garden before her son's new wife moved in.

Old woman, Grandmother, no one
calls me to mourn you. The flowers not here
should be naming you Wife, Mother, if that's
what you were. Friend. Forgive me. I know

I should try
to shake this room with your silence,
to want you to call me beyond
this doorway. In

the next room other
mourners, fragile as light,
expect me to return.


Learning to Breathe


Head in a space helmet
fishbowl, this
has been in her head for weeks

her baby's cells dividing
faster than her thoughts
of them, this lack

of control no one sees
no one knows how full
her head is becoming

a yawn interrupted
forever until every-
thing above her

hips collapses
into this space
in herself she'd taken

for granted so long it
filled in
like a fist

so long solid
as death, something else
she can not name

outward from bone
each finger
learning to breathe.


And the little fish
little unlit lantern
fish, gills

into ribs, fins into
nubbins like fingers
thumbs, three

months neither son
nor daughter
heartbeat suspended in

silence so
much deeper than
the pull of tides

of seaweed
rocking, rocking
spreading, placenta

soft as a sun
so many light years

months away only the mind
sees it, having
been told it's there.


So many births each second
each day, numbers she used to be
no closer to than stars

all of us as children
long ago stopped
trying to count

each one once
from deep inside that
many women

whose hands like their sweaters
stretched beyond recall
surround not air

but space dense as black holes
scientists say are suns
collapsed inside themselves

spaces we grew in
pulsing somewhere around us
in this air

we take for granted
pulling us closer


Having Given Birth

for the first time

my body comes back
to itself

Spine, half
a wish bone
doubles back

Stretch marks on my breasts
fade pale
as milk

Around my head songs
from my childhood quiver
like moths, they ask
to be taken back
they ask forgiveness
for having been gone so long

Through my own lips
my mother's voice
sings my daughter to sleep

When she sleeps
at my breast, I become
the oldest person
I have ever known
I am younger than I can remember.


Remembering Breughel's "Massacre of the Innocents"

for my daughter, Erin

I'd known it hung there, in Vienna. But home
was the place for warnings of strangeness, of not
taking rides, or candy. With me now
even weiners from butcher shop owners were safe.
Together now we were climbing palatial
marble steps, the guidebook having said
nothing of archways twice
as high as our house, completely studded
with color, real gold-covered crossbeams,
a ceiling of painted-on seasons of glory: each hair
on each head (as my father would say) so precise
you could see it, assuming you could get close
as the artists had, hanging there day after day
for months, their dangers of falling so far removed
from our journey past sculptures on landings
to canvas in far-off rooms.

I would have stared upward longer but you
were obsessed with the head of Medusa in What's-
his-name's hand, my memory not
so needed as saying it's really all make-believe.
No one could ever have snakes for hair, no one
cut off her head although maybe
he would have, had she been real.
What's true is I didn't avoid when I could have
that room with fifteen original Breughels, the first
I had ever seen not in a book.
"The Tower of Babel." "Peasant Dance." The other
I couldn't draw you away from, could only
respond: those soldiers lived too far back
to remember, they must have been following orders,
their leaders must have been mean. More

I could have said and still not enough.
So much you already knew of betrayals and still
you returned again and again from rooms of Rembrandt and Reubens,
Cranach's Adam and Eve and hundreds of Christs on the cross
you returned to take in details no one could
forget: the mothers pleading, the children
Iying in blood, in snow, in a huge commotion of lances,
hooves, dogs, the wails of the children, the mothers
helpless with blood on their laps, on their hands,
their eyes turned back from Heaven.

Erin, no one forgives such things.
Nor do I know why we stayed until closing, hurrying out
with our postcards and parcels into the late May drizzle.
Why I sat on a park bench while you tried finding
pleasure in dancing like pigeons, hiding from me
again and again behind the base of Maria Theresa's statue,
knowing I knew where you were, insisting
I couldn't find you, anywhere.


Gifts from Erin, Age 4


Shape of a moth, of a bear's
claw, back of a horseshoe crab,
this fragment of pine
cone chipped
by jays

fallen among their cries
like tiny beaks
and skulls fallen from nests
of juncos, kinglets, robins, what's left

of eggs blue jays have
already eaten.


Half a filbert shell: "Look! A heart,
a Valentine a squirrel left behind!"


Except in the case of brief quotations in reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed to BOA Editions, 92 Park Avenue, Brockport, New York 14420.

Ingrid Wendt was born and raised in Aurora, Illinois. She received a B.A. from Cornell College (Iowa), graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, and the M.F.A. from the University of Oregon, where she received the Neuberger Award in poetry. She has taught at the University of Oregon and Fresno State College, California, and has been Managing Editor of Northwest Review. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including No More Masks, An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday & Co., 1973). She is co-editor of the anthology In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts (The Feminist Press and McGraw-Hill, 1980). Currently she teaches in the Oregon Poets-in-the-Schools program in Eugene, Oregon, where she lives with her husband, Ralph Salisbury, and their daughter, Erin.

Moving the House has been issued in a first edition of tweive hundred copies, of which seven hundred are in paper and four hundred and fifty are in cloth. An additional fifty copies have been bound in quarter- cloth and French papers over boards by Gene Eckert: ten copies, numbered 1-X and signed by William Stafford and Ingrid Wendt, include a poem in holograph by Ingrid Wendt; twenty-six copies, lettered A-Z, have been signed by William Stafford and Ingrid Wendt; fourteen copies, numbered i-xiv and signed by William Stafford and Ingrid Wendt, have been retained by the publisher for presentation purposes.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors and publishers of the following publications in which some of these poems first appeared: Calyx, Corban, Feminist Studies, Gilt Edge, Greenfield Review, Luckiamute, Northwest Review, Poetry Now, Silverfish Review, and West Coast Review.

"Driving North Without You" was originally published in a poetry postcard series issued by the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Arts Foundation. "Gifts from Erin, Age 4" was originally published in a poetry postcard series issued by Prescott Street Press.

Photographs by Rick Hock
Photo of Ingrid Wendt by Ralph Salisbury

Publication of books by BOA Editions is made possible in part with the assistance of grants from the Literature Program of the New York State Council on the Arts and the Literature Program of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Designed and printed at the Visual Studies Workshop.
Typeset by City Newspaper
Binding by Gene Eckert

Distributed by The Book Bus, Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street, Rochester, New York 14607

ISBN 0-918526-21 3 Cloth
0-918526 22 1 Paper

BOA Editions
Publisher: A. Poulin, Jr.
92 Park Avenue
Brockport, N.Y. 14420
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