The Cellar’s Reckoning
Where the broad, brick picket of chimney
noses into the cellar dirt, a hemlock
post spans from joist to shale slab
and bears its share of the house’s weight,
but also the firm, deliberate strokes and scrolls
of a hundred-year old hand, tallying bushels
of potatoes stored in that false, dank furrow
and sold to neighbors as the winter drew thin.
The acrid sweat of the soil condenses
on the post and coats the pencil marks
with a gloss that rots what nails remain
to scabrous nubs. In between the knots
and beetle holes each year begins “September”;
the roll counts bin and bushel, and neighbors’
names in ranks through March. But a decade’s worth of reckoning, and the hemlock pile falls mute.
If the farm failed, or the tale was picked up
by a new post, or ruled tablet — entered
in the living sun that still pours through
the kitchen ell — the past and cellar stay silent.
Given enough time, a cellar’s maw will swallow
the house it holds — flood or fire or the slow burn of ruinous decay that calls the dozer’s blade; I’ve kept your house alive, and — by my tally — I’ve filled
the space between harvests with my portion
of diligence, with care, and the voices of children.
But your work is gone, and your labors have wasted into the clay, and the cellar will bear no more.