Damp Rot

Water sheets on the old stone of the cellar walls,
trickles out over the floor into little deltas of mud,
worse every year, so that now I can see daylight
at the footings, and upstairs the floors sometimes
tremble and the clothes go damp in the closets. And sometimes
I think the whole place is about to come down, and have begun

to dream at night of moving, unaccountably sad
to think of leaving this house which has possessed me now
for eighteen years, in which one of us has died
and two been born, for all its elegance of detail most everything
not right in it, or long gone bad, nothing
ever done which should have been, one hundred years
and more of water rancid in the cellars, moldings
never finished or else mitred crookedly, all

the small and growing energies of dirt and rot
wherever we care to look, whenever we do. And we do.
But I dream also of the pine grove of my planting,
which I know I love and which is the green truth
of this place: in one day ten years ago
I dug fourteen small trees, wrapped the roots
in burlap, dragged them down from the top ridge
of the hill, spaced them carefully, watered
them each day for one whole season. Now

they are twenty feet high, thick roots
already at the cellar wall, vigorous and loud
even in little winds, only the hemlock
mournful and reluctant to do much in the way
of increasing itself. But it is clear
that if I do not freely leave this place,
it will leave me—though, as Ray Reynolds says,
digging at a powdery floor joist with his knife,
there may be more here than I think, better
than a two-by-six at least; and his blade slides
two inches in and stops at what he calls
the heartwood, meaning, as I take it, at the wood
which has not yet given way.

John Engels, “Damp Rot” from Weather-Fear: New and Selected Poems (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by John Engels. Used with the permission of the author.
Source: Weather-Fear: New and Selected Poems 1958-1982 (1983)
More Poems by John Engels