Penelope House

They’re razing a co-op down the street –
not a quick implosion reducing it to dust,
but the slow pecking of crows on a carcass,
the wrecking ball taking time, taking aim,
admiring each swing.

For a hundred years, steadfast Penelope
wove new tenants’ whims, unraveled for the next,
But Odysseus is a no-show,
and her suitors tired of the game –
the clanking pipes and sometime heat.

Now Penelope is ravaged, her fragment rooms exposed –
garish yellows, mud-stained blues,
a scrap or two of curtain catching in the wind
like remnants of a peignoir.

I pull my coat close as I pass.
Implosion would be nice, I think,
but I know the wrecking ball’s
begun its arc.

— Sarah Russell
First published in Black Poppy Review
For the prompt “buildings” on Real Toads
For open link night on dVerse
Photo courtesy of Tri City News

41 thoughts on “Penelope House

  1. Was there really a Penelope House – what a wonderful name for a building! I l love that you have written about a building’s demise. I especially enjoyed the personification, the allusion to Greek myth, and the lines:
    ‘not a quick implosion reducing it to dust,
    but the slow pecking of crows on a carcass’;
    ‘Implosion would be nice, I think,
    but I know the wrecking ball’s
    begun its arc’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim. This poem happened almost like a dream, and arrived nearly complete. I am drawn to buildings that are being torn down. Almost a voyeur’s fascination in seeing remnants of how people lived. Penelope House is an amalgam of many buildings I’ve watched being razed. Weird, huh.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do like this poem very much. I too love abandoned buildings, almost forgotten architecture. The descriptions in this poem are excellent: “garish yellows, mud-stained blues, a scrap or two of curtain catching in the wind”. I watched an old home being dismantled in the block up from my house when I lived in the city. I was saddened by it but also fascinated at the process. Years ago I watched an old 30 story hotel imploded. Incredible.


  3. Sarah, you touched a vein of which I hadn’t given much thought. Through that vein runs a latent love for destruction of things constructed. It often first appears in the domino falling trail, absolutely made for destruction soon after. Also the stacking of building blocks, the very young are drawn to this game.
    I loved reading it, I have now rejoined the ranks of sidewalk superintendents.


    1. When we were building a house where many older folks spent vacations, the sidewalk superintendents were so rife that we kidded that we were going to buy them all baseball caps with Sidewalk Superintendent on them. Now my husband is joining the cadre. sigh.


  4. I get the sense of losing the past when I see a building come down even when I know it is safer to take it down. Then I watch rise in its place. Even sadder than see the past torn down is seeing the future building stalled and not completed for years.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The sight of buildings demolished has always provoked questions about what lay beneath the rubble — a pile of jumbled pieces bringing to life memories of the unknown. But beneath it all, metaphor of the crow suggests, closure might take longer than the mere act of demolition. Thank you for sharing!


    1. Yes, closure is in the mind and heart, not in the absence of the building. My husband still goes past the field where his grandmother’s house stood and then burned to the ground and remarks about its absence and the memories he made there.


  6. I’d like to add to Thotpurge’s comment: Naming the building Penelope – an amalgam of torn down buildings you witnessed over time – the history behind the name had me reading it as a feminist poem, referencing gender-based violence – the repeated bashing of the building. The last line left me saddened and angry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love the many interpretations this poem is invoking. Yes, it could be read this way. And there certainly was a time in my own history when this was true. It also speaks to the ongoing attempts to control (demolish) women’s lives as well as the lives of gays, lesbians and trans people by the current administration. In a more poem-centered vein, I think, from the many interpretations that the poem has received, that it underscores for me that once a poem leaves the womb of the poet to go into the world, it doesn’t belong to him/her anymore. It belongs to each reader.


  7. I too am drawn to the stories ‘within’ those walls. I never have, nor will, I think, understand the destruction of the old for what is often inferior new, in the name of economics, growth and profit. These buildings are all Penelope. We are so fickle us humans.

    Liked by 1 person

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