“Empty Room,” photograph by Anne Winkler, 2009. Used with permission.

by Robert S. King

This was not my house the day
it grew smaller over my shoulder.
The family my blind rage left would not
know me now, nor would I know more
than who they were. I was the eldest
and the last hope. Did they coin new wishes
while I was gone to find my fortune?
Or did they not wish at all?

The well here has gone dry.
The panes are cracked, the roof sags,
and the crumbling chimney leans
like an ear listening for new dreamers
to come repair the house and build a fire.

The home is coldest where they used to sit
watching the empty road
for this dreamer to return to his ruins.
Long after their last breaths joined the wind,
I’m home again to mend and remember,
or maybe to go off dreaming again.

Inside, photographs hang on cobwebs.
The last one hung there is of my back
silhouetted in the empty road ahead
where trees wave me on
or shoo me back.

Now I must clean house. I wash the windows
and mirrors, maybe to see further down
the road. I look inside walls to know
why their ribs buckled, why the heart
of the house stopped.

Some say I’ll always be a stranger here
who blew his fortune for the deed to the farm.
Perhaps I bought my shame.
I have only pennies for the wishing well,
but the wishes are all mine to keep.
I will spend them here where I began.
I will whisper them to the ears of the dead.

omega man

Robert S. King’s poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, including California Quarterly, Chariton Review, Kenyon Review, Louisville Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Writers’ Forum. He has published three chapbooks (When Stars Fall Down as Snow, Garland Press 1976; Dream of the Electric Eel, Wolfsong Publications 1982; and The Traveller’s Tale, Whistle Press 1998). His full-length collections are The Hunted River and The Gravedigger’s Roots, both from Shared Roads Press, 2009. He is a former president of the Georgia Poetry Society.