House: Some Instructions

By Grace Paley 1922–2007 Grace Paley
If you have a house
you must think about it all the time   
as you reside in the house so
it must be a home in your mind

you must ask yourself (wherever you are)   
have I closed the front door

and the back door is often forgotten   
not against thieves necessarily

but the wind   oh   if it blows   
either door open   then the heat

the heat you’ve carefully nurtured   
with layers of dry hardwood

and a couple of opposing green   
brought in to slow the fire

as well as the little pilot light   
in the convenient gas backup

all of that care will be mocked because   
you have not kept the house on your mind

but these may actually be among   
the smallest concerns   for instance

the house could be settling   you may   
notice the thin slanting line of light

above the doors   you have to think about that   
luckily you have been paying attention

the house’s dryness can be humidified   
with vaporizers in each room and pots

of water on the woodstove   should you leave   
for the movies after dinner   ask yourself

have I turned down the thermometer
and moved all wood paper away from the stove

the fiery result of excited distraction   
could be too horrible to describe

now we should talk especially to Northerners   
of the freezing of the pipe   this can often

be prevented by pumping water continuously   
through the baseboard heating system

allowing the faucet to drip drip continuously   
day and night   you must think about the drains

separately   in fact you should have established   
their essential contribution to the ordinary

kitchen and toilet life of the house   
digging these drains deep into warm earth

if it hasn’t snowed by mid-December you   
must cover them with hay   sometimes rugs

and blankets have been used   do not be   
troubled by their monetary value

as this is a regionally appreciated emergency   
you may tell your friends to consider

your house as their own   that is   
if they do not wear outdoor shoes

when thumping across the gleam of their poly-
urethaned floors they must bring socks or slippers

to your house as well   you must think   
of your house when you’re in it and

when you’re visiting the superior cabinets   
and closets of others   when you approach

your house in the late afternoon
in any weather   green or white   you will catch

sight first of its new aluminum snow-resistant   
roof and the reflections in the cracked windows

its need in the last twenty-five years for paint   
which has created a lovely design

in russet pink and brown   the colors of un-
intentioned neglect   you must admire the way it does not

(because of someone’s excellent decision
sixty years ago) stand on the high ridge deforming

the green profile of the hill but rests in the modesty   
of late middle age under the brow of the hill with

its back to the dark hemlock forest looking steadily
out for miles toward the cloud refiguring meadows and

mountains of the next state   coming up the road
by foot or auto the house can be addressed personally

House!   in the excitement of work and travel to
other people’s houses with their interesting improvements

we thought of you often and spoke of your coziness
in winter   your courage in wind and fire   your small

airy rooms in humid summer   how you nestle in spring
into the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn and the sage green

leaves of the Russian olive tree   House!   you were not forgotten

Grace Paley, “House: Some Instructions” from Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley. Copyright © 1999 by Grace Paley. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Grace Paley 1922–2007

Subjects Home Life, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Grace  Paley

Biography

With her first two books of short stories, Grace Paley established her niche in the world of letters. Her distinctive voice and verbal gifts have captured the hearts of critics who praise her vision as well as her style. In short and sometimes plotless tales, she plumbs the lives of working-class New Yorkers, mapping out what New York Review of Books contributing critic Michael Wood called "a whole small country of damaged, . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Home Life, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.