Traces

Feb 21, 2020

Today’s poem is “Traces” by Margaret Yocom.  She lives in Farmington and Rangeley and is the author of  ALL KINDS OF FUR: Erasure Poems & New Translation of a Tale from the Brothers Grimm (Deerbrook Editions, 2018);  A folklorist, she founded the Folklore Studies Program at George Mason University where she taught for 36 years.

She writes, “Soon after my husband and I bought a house in Farmington, I lingered in its empty country pantry, remembering my grandparents’ homes in the Pennsylvania German farmland where I was raised. My eye fastened on a burnt spot on the wooden counter that lay on top of the storage bins. As I bent down to it, I realized that the spot took the shape of a clothes iron. How had I in these first weeks missed seeing it? Had it just, somehow, risen up through the unpainted wood? Well, no—but I began wondering about the woman of this house who had made that mark. What had happened to make her turn from her ironing and leave her woodstove-hot iron face down on the counter? Why did she—and all the women after her—leave that burnt spot there? Why was I going to leave it there as well?”

Traces
by Margaret Yocom

for those who sheltered in my 1871 Farmington house, before

I trace the shape she burnt, once, 
onto the pantry’s wooden counter
of her house, now nearly mine. 

My fingertip slides along the swell
of its side, toward the tip and down again, 
squat and small, her woodstove iron—

her message to me from last century, or
the century before. 
Perhaps they called to her from the icy street, 

or the side yard of her children’s play.
Perhaps she paused from sheets and tablecloths, 
shirt after shirt after shirt, the smell of starch.

Perhaps the west window’s winter sun was enough: 
snow drifts around the young spruce, shadows 
cloak a passer-by, the village clock strikes five.

No matter. The iron burned the wood—
scent of seared pine, of ash, of 
house fires that her town was heir to. 

She did not rub that surface smooth, 
left her mark of drift and daydream, 
accident or alarm. Her house stands empty now.

I follow paw-prints through the horseless barn, part
the pantry door’s brown velvet curtains, push
open a narrow closet door, touch

a newel post, pull off
its acorn finial—loose and leaning, search 
the hollow for what she might have hidden there. 

Unlit stairs wind up.
My first dream in her house: ink spills, black, 
on a white window sill.

Poem copyright ©2019 Margaret Yocom.