If the House by Molly Spencer

If the House by Molly Spencer
University of Wisconsin Press, 2019
96 pages, $16.95

A Poetic Review (with Footnotes) by Donna Vorreyer

I am here only to ask:           What, edge

of the woods, did you ever mean to me?[1]

If the house was snow or meadow. /The body roof or vestibule. [2]

Then the palpable glass

of his silence and her words falling

From it like stunned birds then the sinking

Of another broken dusk down to the night. [3]

Intangible connection to /one’s surroundings/can build  a house. [4]

Every day just shallow breaths

of light and all the gulls scavenging

the strandline where

I have counted all the times

you didn’t touch me.[5]

The desire /to connect /construction./The failure to do so/ demolition. [6]

You are not being helpful he says I am

Being honest she says I am looking for a room

To walk away through…[7]

Stone. Sand. Ice. Each element/discloses the vestiges of love. [8]

She didn’t even go out to watch him leave

seeds for the birds atop the new snow. And love

took its leave of her slowly,

as a tree lets drop its leaves in the autumn

of no wind.[9]

Stone becomes sand/and we bear witness to that/sweet-sad erosion.

The weight/not dissolving. Simply/changing form. [10]

Now that the only scrape of a shovel

over the walk before daylight

 is your scrape

Now that the blade in your hands is

the blade you asked for.[11]

And no matter the structure, the wood,/the nails, how much the frame has crumbled,/

life continues.[12]

As if life can go on as it has, I sing. I stir

a pungent sauce the exact shade of love

or fear. The children pepper me with whys

and hows. The stove fan swallows what rises.[13]

If the house is a poem. It is this book.


[1] “Elegy with After Effects”

[2] Although the speaker does move from house to house during the course of the book, the more important designation for house here is that the speaker’s surroundings, whether they be natural or man-made, are containers for domestic uncertainty and change. These poems “house” difficult emotions and a pastiche of repeated images that serve as links from poem to poem.

[3] “Conversation with Glass and Joist”

[4] The house here is not just a tangible construction, a building where one lives. Connection and disconnection recur in patterns that are not balanced. Disconnection and loneliness permeate even the most sturdy walls until something needs to break. The dissolution of a relationship creates cracks in the foundation.

[5] “Elegy at the Strandline”

[6] A house is never to blame for what occurs inside of its walls. A house is not a living entity. It says “My windows are your eyes, not mine.”  – from Rigoberto Gonzalez “Casa”

[7] “Conversation with Shower and Vestibule”

[8] Love is waning here, in ways both explicitly stated and deftly woven into every examination of conversation, narrative, or landscape. This erosion is impossible to hide – it cannot be buried beneath the wild storm of these poems. This relationship is winter, winter, ice, snow, and no spring in sight.

[9] “Silences: Snowfall”

[10] The reader in this book is confidant, eavesdropper. The reader is meadow grass and ice fall. The reader is in the bed, the shower, the kitchen. The reader holds the nail for the steady-handed hammer of Spencer’s lines.

[11]  “Disclosures: if  you are aware of any nuisance animals such as crows, chickens, or barking dogs”

[12] There is hope here, redemption, a woman at the window seeing snow as a clean landscape as yet untouched by sorrow.

[13] “As if life can go on as it has”


Read more from Donna in this issue here.