When we moved into our first house,
we marveled at its history, guessing
at what the house had withstood since 1915.
Then we threw out the mattress in the attic,
trying not to breathe the dust that billowed into the air,
all the while knowing the same man who’d had no knack
for plumbing fittings and knob and tube wiring
had died in the house years ago.
We sanded and painted and refinished,
Patched the crumbling lathe with mesh and putty,
but we refused to strip those old walls.
Ours was a decision born of money and sweat, but still
we could claim nostalgia and laugh at the way
each picture and nail produced another hopeless gap.
Our new, young neighbors
ripped out their lathe walls,
then wished they hadn’t.
In the corner was a little girl’s dress.
Crumpled and worn, it might have fit a baby.
Now it was chewed at the edges, but intact
behind the plaster, tucked
next to two small socks trimmed in lace.
Who had placed the clothes there?
Convinced an animal couldn’t have aligned
the entire tiny outfit so carefully,
they invited us next door to view it. I shuddered
from across the room
and wondered at the bodies sealed inside walls,
those we can’t let go of but can’t bear to see.
Thought of how the baby they lost must have been mourned.
Who had saved this dress, so desperate
for proof of her existence, to shape
and form a self when none remained?
My fingers played over the beams
wondering who had cut the hole,
who had replaced the boards,
who had added the socks,
and I knew someone had once prayed in this corner,
as if staring at the wall,
had seen what others could not,
had traced the shape of whole bodies we cannot touch.
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