Waiting for Annie’s birds

She was pregnant here too,
in this little house set back from the street
in South Seattle
I think of her sometimes, running her fingers over her belly,
standing in the hallway I stand in now
feeling tired, and curious,
wondering about the tiny person living under this stretched-out skin
wondering what lies ahead

She raised six children in these rooms,
and I know that there were mornings during the Great Depression
when she watched the sun come up through these very windows.
She prepared meals in the same kitchen i do, while the Second World War raged
and as the Atomic Era dawned,
I know there were nights she laid awake listening to her husband breathe
in the same bedroom I do.

She worried about money here,
and got bad news in the mail here,
and shed tears alone in this very breakfast nook
at least once
of that I am certain

She planted the cedar tree outside my bedroom window
and the flowering dogwood I gaze at from the laundry room
She cooked on a wood-fired stove for years, right where I stand now to make tea
If i run my fingers over the plaster I can find the place the stovepipe met the wall.
I think of her every time I roll out a piecrust

She watched news of Vietnam in this living room, I am certain,
shaking her head beneath these arched plaster ceilings
She welcomed visitors and grandchildren through this very front door
as Reaganomics trickled down poverty on the neighborhood around her

knowing this, today I wrapped my fingers around the dented doorknob
and did not turn it
but stood there
in her footsteps

she washed dishes at this sink during the First Intifada,
and climbed these steps as the Iron Curtain fell
She grew feeble here while I learned geometry formulas in high school,
and she filled birdfeeders outside these windows
as I drove past on the freeway, bound for college to the south

Her elderly son Roger told me she received a card on her hundredth birthday
from President George W. Bush
and that she quipped
“that’s silly, I didn’t even vote for him.”

Sometime during the second US invasion of Iraq,
Roger built her a platform off the back steps,
so she could wheel herself out to watch the birds congregate on her feeders on sunny mornings

As she began to die, they moved her into the room that will belong to our son
there was a bed for her nurse
and a hospital bed for her
and a white rotary phone
and now I want this stanza to sound like Goodnight Moon
but it won’t.
although I’m sure at some point
there was a comb, and a brush
and a bowl full of mush
and a quiet old lady,
whispering hush

She may have breathed her last breaths in the room where we’ll read our son bedtime stories
I do not know.
if she did, it does not seem macabre to me
but right, somehow.
She lived here eighty years,
and I know nothing about her.
Sometimes I bake pies in her kitchen and feel I know everything
that matters

When we came to see the house for the first time, we noticed the birdfeeders were full,
though she’d been dead a year
and in a few minutes, i saw over a dozen hummingbirds
Roger had been feeding them in his mother’s memory
and he made me promise that if we bought the house,
I would do so also

weeks and weeks went by before i acquired new feeders
and a few more weeks passed before I got around to filling them

in the meantime
we ripped out the ceilings and walls in her bedrooms,
we tore up her carpets and put down bamboo floors
i don’t know if she’d like the changes

The birds have stayed away
since there’s been no food for them
and the yard has been thick with the chaos of a remodel

but the feeders are full again
and the quiet has returned

and I am waiting for Annie’s birds
and baking pies in her kitchen

and hoping she knows that I will love her home
the way it ought to be loved



Filed under Americana, basic goodness, Change, Family, History, love, marriage, memory, Mothers, Ordinary, outside, Peace, poetry, Pregnancy, stories, watching it all go by

8 responses to “Waiting for Annie’s birds

  1. what a beautiful tribute to the pieces you’ve been able to glean of one woman’s life… gorgeously done

  2. You do your house honor. I’ve always lived in tract houses and never had that feeling of history. My m-in-law (who passed many years ago) lived in her house for 70 years and I loved going down into her basement and listening to the footsteps overhead. Annie is smiling and she’ll call the birds back. Love, Pearl

  3. Judy Lynn

    Sarah – I am a friend of your mom’s and she has recently shared your blog. She told me what a great writer you are….and I couldn’t agree more! I’ve subscribed to your blog and am so moved by each piece I’ve read….both prose and poetry. Such a thoughtful, loving woman you are….with a gift of words. Judy

  4. sarahalisabethfox

    Annie’s smilin….

    well done.
    love, m

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