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On the Fifth Anniversary of the Patient Work Begun at the Huss Project

Elisabeth Wenger

Elisabeth Wenger

This poem was commissioned for the Fifth Annual Huss Future Festival on July 19 and was read during the Festival by the poet. Thank you, Elisabeth, for blessing our work with your gift of beautiful and disturbing words. -rvgr

The worst to go is the roof.
Once the roof caves in,
no matter how beautiful the brickwork,
the building is scrap. This is true.

Sweep it up and cart it off
to the dump, rising stolidly
in the middle of the plain.
Make of it a silent stratum of dust.

Start over, you can build again.
There is the land, there is seed
that sits in sacks, waiting
to be strewn on the stripped ground.

Clear away the last weathered
two-by-fours, the eggshell
ceiling tiles, shove it all in a bag
and forget what this place once looked like.

Or raise the roof. Before it caves,
bolster it. Replace the walls,
the bowing beams, the ceiling tiles
which fall like miracles — suddenly,
and not without injury.

Bow to the walls you have painted,
for they are brighter now. Sing back
to all the songs you have sung
under the windows, working songs
to warm the air and hands.

Struggle each day with some new
catastrophic weather system, which,
despite your best efforts, is packing up with glee
to move inside. Pit the strength in your arms
against it, shove back. Shovel the roof off, again.

Wake each morning joyful to bend your back
for the roof to rest upon. In the meantime,
in that posture, pick the beans you have planted.
Snack on your dreams, fill your belly full
with the sound of your own laughter.

Calculate with abandon how many pounds
per square inch of soft collected rainwater
this roof could support, reclaimed black tanks
hiding just beneath the surface, filling
with a mad rush in cold downpours, saved against the day.

The building beneath you offers thanks
which is not mute, a thunderous roll
of the histories which built it, accumulated
in all its corners like dust and cobwebs, filling its rusted pipes
with a rattle, not of death but of a train,

all its lamps lighted and full of people
telling stories, passing in the night.
For all it’s caught in the onrush, pouring like water,
it is always present in its passing.
Reach out for it. Take its hand. Hold hard.