The brown shingled house on Hulbert Avenue,
the hundred yards of white picket fence
with each morning glory and rose
in its place and blooming without effort
though inside the gate this year
there are weeds on the croquet pitch
and the lawn is brown around the edges
wept-for but unwatered.
In the house dust deepens on the mantles
and mildew sours the salt-sweet air.
Day help lets the telephone ring too long.
They snitch drinks and pilfer silver
and thread-bare Orientals underfoot
go gritty and unvacuumed this Labor Day.
The matriarch is dead at ninety,
carried off by a terrible stroke
that did her in at last
though her own swing was still sound
on the last tee of the back nine
in the game that finally bogeyed her.
Along with golf and tennis
it was the two martinis every night before dinner
the chicken a la King on toast
and pride in lineage
that kept her at the top of her form,
her widow's wealth devoured
by prep schools and prodigal offspring
with their poor business sense
and marital disasters.
Her twenty grandchildren and great grandchildren
were all terrified of the bony talons
and shrill bird-like voice
that quickened to rebuke at table
or anywhere else they were made to sit or stand,
blond heads bowed in frozen deference.
There would be no intercession
from cowed parents
when scolding was dished out
and they knew it.
Your cousins, jocks from Groton,
trembled like girls
in the icy wither of her stare.
Next year strangers will be living here,
Some Lopahin with too much money
and too loud a voice
and a wife who cannot silence
the children clambering over furniture
and running noisily through rooms
your Grandmother would not have let them in.
(Now they can pay the taxes and the upkeep.)
Sell the antiques. Keep the yellowing photos
of your Grandfather with his prize fish,
of Lucy's first dip in the surf,
of Uncle Jarvis in his sailor suit at six
(finished at forty by the booze),
of your Grandmother scowling at her geriatric trophies,
of potted neighbors clowning their red-eyed way
through end-of-season bashes at the Club.
Put on one of those funky straw hats
that hang in the hall
where ghosts in white-sheeted chairs
bid you a gruff farewell
pretending you'll come back next May.
Feel the uselessness of keys
as you lock the place up
for the last time in September
and dance down the steps
of the wrap-around porch
like a tourist,
fool that you are
for having known this life at all,
fool for having lost it.