Floating Houses

The night mist leaves us yearning for a new location   
to things impossibly stationary,
the way they’d once float houses
made from dismantled ships, brass and timber,   
from Plymouth, Massachusetts, across the sound   
to White Horse Beach. You were only a boy.

Years later, gazing out to the red buoys
of the harbor, you sought those houses, each the location   
of your childhood’s end. Jon, I make this all sound   
too complex. Our view of time is stationary,
a long prediction of remorse. We’re drinking in timber,   
camping above Tucson, Arizona. Below, the houses

are vague points of light, describing a grief you’ve housed   
since watching those buildings careen on water, a boy   
too sullen for your father. So the aspens creak like timber   
in an aging sloop. The others sleep. You locate
the figure of your son, small and stationary,
but tell me he’ll die young, body unsound,

a childhood diabetic. The bourbon makes you sound   
entranced—to think one day you’ll return to the house   
to find that you’ve outlived him, maybe the radio station   
playing some popular song. Outliving the boy,
you’ll outlive yourself. Drunk, we’ve lost our location.   
I shine my flashlight to find the others. The timbre

of your voice grows slack. Leaves and timber   
rustle in the promise of rain, in the sound
of distant thunder that, like death, has no location.   
Below, relentless clouds will cover houses.
The campfire sputters, then grows, buoyed
by wind, our bodies the only things stationary.

Because of death, our small, unstationary
lives become narration—a child is lost in timber   
in a fable when night approaches. The boy
can’t even see his hands. Only owl-cry, the sound   
of his heart. But soon the aspens part, the houses   
of his village appear, their location

precise and consoling. He’s stationary, not a sound   
from below. Beyond the timber, floating houses.
And there his papa’s lantern, a light the boy can locate.

David Wojahn, “Floating Houses” from Icehouse Lights. Copyright © 1982 by Yale University. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press.
Source: Icehouse Lights (Yale University Press, 1982)
More Poems by David Wojahn