Pain in the House

By Eleanor Ross Taylor 1920–2011
Feeling her head pick up her body,
         question mark,
         blurred misstamped question mark
         snakes out of   bed,
         trying to  jiggle unhappiness
         as little as possible,
         not to wake pain,
         not to raise a shade,
         if  raising a shade in the dark wakes pain.
Under the shade the stars are awake, smiling —
         ready to frown on unhappiness.
And the happiness of  the unconscious
         is scurrying already
         from the knife-edge of   light,
         pain’s night-light,
         waiting under the door across the hall.
Dread’s square hair stiffens,
         her feet have corners,
         trying to trick the stairs out of their creaking,
         and the house out of  groaning before coffee,
         before resurrection.
Death before resurrection is hard;
         breakfast and the stars belong first;
         plenty of  time to die all day
         when everything does groan, and unhappiness
         shakes itself out like a musty old mare
         all over the house.
Dread says to herself: Serves me right
         for leaving home, for learning to read;
         serves me right for children and menopause
         and cosmetic surgery, and elation in gin.
                                      I must travel back
         through the shade and the black holes and the frowns,
         through drink and tampon and alphabet
         to the kitchen and mother and dad and
         the morning of  the resurrection was the first day.

NOTES: This poem is part of a special section of Poetry magazine's May issue

Eleanor Ross Taylor, "Pain in the House" from Captive Voices. Copyright © 2009 by Eleanor Ross Taylor. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: Poetry (May 2010).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2010
 Eleanor Ross Taylor


Eleanor Ross Taylor was born in 1920 in Norwood, North Carolina, and graduated from Women’s College, now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in 1942.  While studying at Vanderbilt University, Caroline and Allen Tate introduced her to novelist Peter Taylor, whom she would marry in 1943. Her poetry has been described as elegiac, lyric and feminine; writer Erica Howsare explains, “The southernness of her background . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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