Old Houses

By Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
Aunt Martha bustles
From room to room
Between attic and basement,
With duster and broom.
 
Like an oven grenade,
In cobwebby corners
Her broom explodes
A babel of wonders.
 
Her summer crusade
Havocs the bugs.
Like an enfilade,
She rakes the rugs.
 
The sound and fury
Of table and bed
Whirs a panic of sparrows
To the oaks overhead.
 
Untenable grows
The vast of the house
For even the ghost
Of Lazarus’ mouse.
 
The fogies convert
Back fences to staffs
And sow their gossip
With Pharisee laughs:
 
Aunt Martha’s scowl
Is a lithograph’s.
 
As the fogies watch
Her attic lairs
Jettison the junk
Of heirloom wares,
She shouts: “Old houses
Need cleaning upstairs!”

Melvin Tolson, "Old Houses" from Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Source: "Harlem Gallery" and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (University Press of Virginia, 1999)

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

Poet Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

 Melvin B. Tolson

Biography

Known for his complex, challenging poetry, Melvin B. Tolson earned little critical attention throughout most of his life, but he eventually won a place among America's leading black poets. He was, in the opinion of Allen Tate, author of the preface to Tolson's Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, the first black poet to assimilate "completely the full poetic language of his time and, by implication, the language of the . . .

Continue reading this biography

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.