Ralph Skip Stevens
Bio Note: My photographer wife, Sally Rowan, is one of those whose eye is attracted by the unusual, the dilapidated. A state like ours, Maine, that has been settled for centuries, provides many subjects – collapsing barns and houses - for such a sensibility. The result is often beautiful in the strange way that beauty has, of inhabiting a ruin. Sally’s photos of old Maine buildings inspired these two poems, both of which appear in my latest collection, Water under Snow, from Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock.
The dignity of old houses
won’t be seen on the glossy pages of decorator magazines, where the eye grows accustomed to a certain color balance, the confident staging of the flower arrangement on just the right end-table, the rich but modest sofa, Windsor chair no one will sit in for very long. And who’s to blame the eye that can’t see past some cracks in the century-old plaster walls, recoils at water stains, holes in the ceiling? The roof line of that old Victorian is sagging now, appealing only to a few eccentric photographers. They walk the hardwood floors worn bare, admire the carved but wobbly newel post, the elegance of the claw foot tub stained with rust. It isn’t easy to see, the dignity of old houses. It needs a certain angle, a careful distance in the slanting evening light.
How Is It That a Ruin
You think there’s something there, in the old barn, its roof sagging in the middle, one wall collapsing inward. How is it that a ruin can arouse your curiosity? You would not stable horses in such dilapidation, or ask the cows to spend even one night. You know the risk you take now setting your feet on rotting planks, looking for you know not what. The past, perhaps? The last year that tractor rusting in the corner came to life and chugged off, filling the air with blue exhaust? The old things, the harness, black leather cracking, pitchfork attached by spiders to a post, and clumps of hay scattered everywhere – these have the dignity of age. Age has its privileges and the privilege of collapsing barns could be this stillness. They have earned their independence, no longer need anything except to sit with broken tools in the gathering dust, feeling no obligation to satisfy anyone’s curiosity.
©2022 Ralph Skip Stevens
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