When I am traveling,
hurrying hundreds of miles
in trains or by car,
I pass houses
where we once lived.
All those places
once seemed permanent, immutable,
part of our marriage, home.
Now they are abandoned stage sets,
insubstantial cardboard and canvas.
Like clothes sent to the thrift shop,
there were lives that we left behind—
just like taking out the garbage,
dropping it in the can,
slamming the lid.
I return as a tourist to
our old lives. Speeding by,
I see our first roof top through
a soot-marked window. I could walk there
from the station. I do not get off the train.
When I have the car,
I park down the block from
another place and keep the motor running.
I see tulips whose bulbs I held,
brown and flaky in my palm.
I cross the lawn like a specter,
ring the bell like a prankster, run away.
The house has been painted
a different color. The swing set is gone.
At the country place, our last,
I stop behind the privet hedge you planted
to see your tree. Set out in September when
you'd measured your last summer's sun,
it now shades the terrace, just as you'd planned.
When you died, I thought of
putting your ashes under your tree.
Instead, the summer after,
I sat out alone in the evenings,
waiting, listening to the leaves.
I still have your car, our child,
the dog, and some of the money.
The cat, the rabbits and the goldfish
are gone. I release the brake.
Driving quickly, I take a familiar road.
I do not see anyone we knew.
"Return I" by Elisabeth Stevens, from Household Words. © Three Conditions Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission.