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By Constance Urdang

This old house lodges no ghosts!

Those swaggering specters who found their way

Across the Atlantic

Were left behind

With their old European grudges

In the farmhouses of New England

And Pennsylvania

Like so much jettisoned baggage

Too heavy

To lug over the Piedmont.


The flatlands are inhospitable

To phantoms. Here

Shadows are sharp and arbitrary

Not mazy, obscure,

Cowering in corners

Behind scary old boots in a cupboard

Or muffled in empty coats, deserted

By long-dead cousins

(Who appear now and then

But only in photographs

Already rusting at the edges)—


Setting out in the creaking wagon

Tight-lipped, alert to move on,

The old settlers had no room

For illusions.

Their dangers were real.

Now in the spare square house

Their great-grandchildren

Tidy away the past

Until the polished surfaces

Reflect not apparitions, pinched,

Parched, craving, unsatisfied,

But only their own faces.


Constance Urdang, “Reflections on History in Missouri” from The Lone Woman and Others. Copyright © 1980. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Lone Woman and Others (1980)

Poet Bio

Poet and novelist Constance Urdang was born in New York, and attended Smith College and the University of Iowa. She worked as an editor for several New York publishers before she returned to school in 1954. In 1955, she married the poet Donald Finkel, and they moved to Mexico, where they lived until 1960. From 1974 until her death, she was on the Washington University faculty, where she taught and coordinated several writing programs. In poems such as “Reflections on History in Missouri,” and “To Live with Landscape,” Urdang uses a free verse form to reflect on the image of America, both past and present.

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