House on the Lake

By Liz Robbins

Featured Image: Greenwood Lake by Jasper Francis Cropsey 1875

When Dad was dying, everyone wanted

to take care of him, no one

wanted to.

We sent flowered cards, everyone wanted

the easy parts.

His cancer was a quiet purple flower

that grew too familiar when it took

over the bed.

The purple wanted the easy parts,

the purple wanted the hard parts, the liver.

We all went one way, then another.

We were the roots, we scattered.

We couldn’t compete, that’s all we could

do. We wanted to sit around and stare

at the clouded sky and drink.

His IV was clear, the only thing.

He had ten months, ten years.

We walked around Lily-Pad Lake,

where hordes of trout wriggled

to breathe.

We wanted to rub his feet, he didn’t

want us to. He wanted a ride to the clinic,

we didn’t want to go.

He did everything right, we did nothing.

We did nothing wrong, he did everything.

The flower was a new member, the kid

whose needs came first,

around whom we spoke in low tones.

Buds pressed up from under

his skin, from every conversation, dirt and

spores, torrents and sprouting.

Each day, the flower asked, What’ve you done

good lately?

Each morning, Dad woke at five, blinking

in the dark, thinking. He didn’t want

to get up.

We all wanted to go check on him, we all

wanted to leave him alone.

He raged, dreaming. He dozed, dreaming.

Again, the air got colder and again

the Giants choked. TV from distant rooms,

Dad’s cough.

We held our breath, tried to imagine.

We were nowhere close

to picking out coffins.

Each day we got closer. Someone

remembered Dad cheering Don’s tennis

match, and we smiled too


Each day, we knew. The sun, peeping out

at the end of a dark-cloud


The dog jumped in the bed, disrupted

our covers.

We knew we knew nothing. We knew we did

and didn’t want to be

in the dark

woods, our walls soft and yellow.

Dad, his face still

needing to be kissed:

in the woods, inside the last

house, with its yard of purple satin.

Liz Robbins’ poems have appeared recently in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Harpur Palate, Margie, Puerto del Sol, Rattle, and storySouth, among others. Poems from her first book, Hope, As the World Is a Scorpion Fish (Backwaters Press), have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily. She is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. Her website can be reached at

Originally published in NOR Spring 2010.

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