In memory of my father-in-law, Hugh Lord Whitehouse
For days we’d been packing—
the clothes that would fit no one
had been given away,
the rooms were full of boxes
and tagged furniture,
the walls were bare,
closets and cupboards empty.
Yet, stripped of so much,
the house still enchanted us,
enfolded and protected us.
Light through dozens of windows
played over the clean white walls
and stairs and banisters of maple wood.
At the back of the house was the view
over the watery road of the canal
and all the wildlife that lived along it.
The night before the movers came
I made a dinner of triple tail
baked with butter and lemon,
roast potatoes and asparagus,
green salad with tomato,
avocado, and goat cheese—
one last meal to add to
the memorable meals over the years.
Later that night I swam in the pool
in the warm September rain,
while my husband shot pool
in the next room.
Through the glass doors I glimpsed him
aiming the cue, heard
the clicks of balls being struck.
Dense night, falling rain
on warm water, the air so full
of rain it was like water.
I dove underwater,
submerged in a sweet,
Just before everyone left,
I discovered the bookends
interspersed between the books
that no one was taking
and recognized my father-in-law’s handiwork
in the blocks of wood four inches square,
each fastened at right angles with two screws
to a square of aluminum.
Made with care, using materials at hand,
the squares of wood sanded and stained,
and the squares of aluminum sanded, too,
so they would slide smoothly
between book and bookshelf.
Presented with the bookends,
my husband dated them from his father’s
grad student days, when short on money,
with mechanical abilities and cultivated tastes,
he made a pair of floor lamps
from salad bowls and ski poles painted black,
with tubular linen shades.
In so much of what he did,
My father-in-law exhibited a painful perfection
that was hard to live up to, hard to live with.
In their serenity and simplicity,
these beautiful objects he made
reveal nothing of his struggles.