My Grandpa’s house is clothing for a ghost

Bear Stamp 1


My Grandpa’s house is clothing for a ghost.

Do you recall the time bears got inside,
unlatched the pantry door, but couldn’t solve the cans?

No more do I.
That’s something Grandpa saw, or says he saw:

The cans were dented, scattered,
labels shredded, and intact though battered.

Later, when he opened one,
the peaches tasted sweeter than they had,
and smelled like honey, heavy on the tongue.
You could rest your head back,
shut your eyes and swear you heard bees hum, you could taste the sun,
open your throat and feel the sweetness run.

So Grandpa told me many times,
as if the tale were true,
as if there had been bears in his New Hampshire youth.


One day the rain made mud and pulled it through the town.
It was his mother’s garden drew it down,
the way the pansies dried and cried for dew,
the way the robin redbreast wove its nest,
back when the world was new.

He was a boy like you then, wild and young,
the future bears of story yet to come.


But anyway, he didn’t die there by the lake.
He died in town, and his old house
is just another place.
It doesn’t hold his ghost.

That, like the bears, the rain,
like all of that,
the half-remembered jokes
are just a midden of his past,
and mostly balderdash,
confused and dis-caboobalated, as he’d say.


Paddy me boy, he’d say, Don’t shill for sense
or value history over eloquence.

I didn’t go out when he died
to stand with Father at the cold hole’s side
or read the requiescat on the stone.
I bought a can of peaches, and stayed home.

This poem was written based on a prompt at the National Poetry Writing Month website:

The prompt is called the “Twenty Little Poetry Projects,” and was originally developed by Jim Simmerman. And here are the twenty little projects themselves — the challenge is to use them all in one poem:

1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).
5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
8. Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.
9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
10. Use a piece of talk you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).
11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . .”
12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he or she could not do in “real life.”
14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.
18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
19. Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).
20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.

3 thoughts on “My Grandpa’s house is clothing for a ghost

    • Thanks, Serena. That was an oddly specific prompt, and writing a poem to it all in one go was (I imagine) a bit like being an actor in one of those improv exercises where someone from the audience gets to call out a new and irreconcilable idea every forty-five seconds.


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