The Vanished Chapel

I returned to Edinboro PA last fall for the first time in years, and found that the Episcopal Center, in whose garret I had lived, had utterly vanished. I had written about the place in a poem called "Seeds from My Garden," in which I counseled my successor tenant in gardening. But seeing the building itself gone made me reflect deeper, and the rewritten poem is very different, and more revealing. (It's amazing I wasn't burned at the stake in that town!)



THE VANISHED CHAPEL

Back for a holiday some years ago, I visited
my home, that old Episcopal chapel,
whose attic garret I lived in
(scandal unheard-of in those days,
an atheist-poet-pervert
doing who knows what under the eaves)

I conduct the new tenant over the grounds,
say, “Here are the onions, back
from last year — I planted these.
A little ground fire in spring
will weed through those blackberries,
in summer they’ll go to eight feet.
The sod here is cleared, for last summer
I took shovel and planted peas, lettuce,
carrot, red radish. Rabbits, oh yes,
they ate the peas right down to the ground.
A sour kind of clover, oxalis I think it’s called,
grows here on the lawn,
boon to salads. Wild flowers,
good for a week in the house.”

(By the wall, a garrulous stalk,
alien seed pods clumped in the sun,
six feet of rhubarb — don’t know
who planted the stuff. Even the kids
     keep away, too much
resemblance to Body Snatcher pods.)

A year passed.
The tenant was gone, they told me.
The grocer’s kind,
     he ate no onions, left
     the berries for birds;

They covered the lot with deep gravel,
     for cars.

Decades passed. I came again
and hardly recognized the spot.
The chapel fell to ruin, then burned.
The garden is a weed-lot. Trees,
already thick and sturdy, assert
the primacy of forest. One more place
I have lived in, obliterated. How long
did the chapel stand empty, shunned,
the object of lingering rumors
of things that went on in that attic?
How many come back, to look and remember,
not the Episcopal mumbling
that went on downstairs, but the mad
poetic ramblings and strange seductions
that nearly rove the roof off as Wagner
and Shostakovich and Mahler rattled
the windows and sent the single bat
(too poor for a belfry) helter skelter
then out the open casement?
No need for hauntings
when you have poets in the attic!

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