Poem of the Week | February 03, 2009

This week we are proud to debut “Middle Room” by Megan Snyder-Camp.  The poem is previously unpublished.  Megan Snyder-Camp’s first collection of poetry,The Forest of Sure Things, won the 2008Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press First Book Award, and will be published in the fall of 2010.  Her poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, the Sonora Review32 Poems, FIELD, and elsewhere.  She is a freelance writer and lives in Seattle with her family.

Before there were modern fire-safety codes there were middle rooms, windowless bedrooms with no fast escape.  Setting aside the insurance risk, I was drawn to the insulation such rooms might offer.  I set the poem in Oysterville, Washington, a mossy, shrinking town which, during the gold rush, was the source of incredible wealth for local oystermen, many of whom built their houses from shipwrecks that washed up.  This town, on the mile-wide tip of the Long Beach peninsula, is not far from where Lewis and Clark met the Pacific.  Oysterville had had a single birth in the past hundred years when I spent a month there in 2005.

Middle Room

The middle room keeps all receipts, all plans.
The other rooms slope out forgivingly, more window than wall,
gray sea braced by a lone cedar more absently black
than the stone bowl on the living room floor.
More absently black,
a notion more lovely to the girl
the more it rains, as it does in sheets today,
neighbors vanished along with their plots
of bluebells and wagon wheels left to soften,
left by pioneers who’d found
the Pacific edged so tight, the view blocked
by such thick woods that the burning
took a whole summer
staring into the knuckled flames, the hissed
release of knots preserved in salt
drawing the peninsula’s breath in around it.
Finally the smell of brightness covered this last mile,
even though when they were through
the pioneers found new terrors: solo
on this mile-wide slip of sand, stumped,
new cabins’ slur against the whittled bank: for safety
their daughters’ daughters kept to the middle rooms,
little compromises hidden from sight,
safe under the coats of a few remaining cedars,
the girls’ inner days a blanket
around the channeled oyster blade, a defense
around which even the newer houses are built
and stand bright and alone in each hammering rain.
They built theirs together, just the two,
mouths full of nails to brace the wider beams.  And now
you can hear their daughter shuffling cards,
she who’s learning to play Memory,
returning through trial and error each snail
to its marbled shell, each kitten to its cat.
Nothing can pull her from her God-pairs.
It rains and she drags the child
back to its mother, sets them aside.