Thursday, August 11, 2011

Conversation was Hushed

After her children had grown, her husband died and her eyesight gone, Virginia Hamilton Adair finally published her first book of poems when she was eighty-three. Even after the complete loss of her sight in 1992, she continued writing on an old Olympia typewriter. From 1994 she lived in a single room at Pilgrim Place, a retirement community in Claremont, California. Until her death in 2004 several helpers assisted her in revising her poems. “Porches II” is from her third collection of poems, Living on Fire, published in 2000.


All over the U.S. the porches were dying.
The porch swing and the rocking chair moved to the village dump.
The floorboards trembled, and the steps creaked.
For a couple of decades a new light burned in the parlor,
the family sitting there silent in front of the box,
voices and music squawking mysteriously from far places
into the dim-lit room. Conversation was hushed.

In the next two decades, a window in a box
flashed unbelievable pictures into the room.
Strangers guffawed and howled with laughter.
Shots rang out, people died in front of our eyes.
We learned not to care, drinking Coca-Cola from bottles,
spilling popcorn into the sofa.

A highway came past the house with its deserted porch
and no one noticed. The children wandered off to rob houses
a few blocks away, not out of need, but simple boredom.
No more family games or read-alouds.

Grandparents sometimes pulled their chairs outside
hoping neighbors would stop in.
They might even drag out an extra chair or two;
still no one came, not even to borrow something.
But it was hard to talk with the TV at their backs,
the traffic screeching by in front, the rest of the neighborhood
on relief, or in rest homes and reformatories.

The old porch is removed, and the grandparents with it.
So long, friends, neighbors, passersby.


  1. Well, hell, that's depressing, the loss of everything signified by deserted porches. I count myself lucky to have experienced sitting around the fireplace at the farmhouses of my relatives in Mis'sip'pi, no TV rattling on, just talk. And the screened porch of my early youth, everybody escaping oven-heated houses, the quiet talk punctuated by insects batting against the screen.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America