Many-Storied House. George Ella Lyon. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington, Kentucky, USA. 2013.
George Ella Lyon's Many-Storied House is instant, take off you shoes, curl up on the couch, comfortable. This encyclopedic examination of the social history of the family home is so blessed wise and careful that the reader thinks Lyon might be a sympathetic poltergeist.
These very simple, straight forward poems have hidden depths of delight and resonance. Lyon has mastered the art of sounding simple while constructing subtle little masterpieces. She has a map of family and place so firmly etched into these poems that the reader feels like a familiar, the reader feels like they have been in this house.
When they were tearing down the Bank of Harlan,
somebody called Daddy to say he should come
empty Papaw's safety deposit box. Papaw
had been dead for years and this was the first
anyone had heard of his private hidey hole.
Home from college, I was at the table that night
when Daddy laid out the contents: a deed, a poem,
a packet of Papaw's love letters to Jo, and a pistol.
All were spread on the table amid the remains
of pork chops, biscuits, and gravy when the doorbell
rang and I got up to answer. Friends, not close ones,
happened to be in our neighborhood and stopped by.
I ushered them down the hall to the kitchen where
Mother had slipped the pistol off the table and under
her apron. Daddy carried in chairs while I cleared
the dishes, put on more coffee, passed a plate
of Lorna Doones. Poem, deed, letters lay
unmentioned while visitors munched, and my pistol-
packing mama sat frozen with that heat in her lap.
Lyon is the author of more than 40 books, the winner of numerous book and writing awards, Many-Storied House is her fifth book of poetry.
These poems could sometimes be mistaken for whimsy, there is a lightness to them that comes from George Ella Lyon's sure touch, she is making it look easy. The reality is anything but - these poems are so solid and sure of themselves, Lyon's voice is certain.
My mother decided
my father never noticed
anything in the house.
To prove her point, she
bought a packet of the plastic
clay you use to hang posters
and stuck a few items
on the library wall
above the couch: a match
box, Wite-out, a Kleenex
things. He said nothing.
"See?" she told me, and stuck
up an artificial rose
and nail scissors. No
she said, adding Scotch Tape,
pipe cleaners, brush rollers,
one of the coin purses
the cleaners gave away.
Daddy just walked to his chair
every night, dozing off
halfway through the news.
Finally, when the wall looked
as though the plaster had
broken out in junk, Mother
took it all down. "It's
hopeless," she told me.
But that night, Daddy said,
"You know, I usually
like the way you decorate
but that didn't look
These poems catalogue every room in the house of George Ella Lyon's youth and the house of her imagination. We are welcomed in, made to feel necessary, made to feel like part of the family. This portrait of a home and the lives that blossom in it is so intimate we can't look away, so tender, we can't stare too long.
Late afternoon I lie down for a nap but instead of sleep Daddy
opens the door behind my eyes. He's in his shirtsleeves standing on
the carpet before the carpet before the flood. He reaches me into a hug
snug as bark. "I didn't think you were here," I say. "Yep," he answers, "It's
me." "But Daddy," I start, "it's all gone." Nonsense. How can the house
be gone when we're standing in it? "What time is it?" I ask and he laughs.
No time, no time at all.
"We all live in this house, These stories belong to everyone.
George Ella Lyon writes the most transporting, intuitive,
inviting poems; their doors feel wide open. Her balancing
touch is generous enough (it's utterly magical how she does
this) to include us all. I love, love, love this book."
-Naomi Shihab Nye, author of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award winner You and Yours
George Ella Lyon is a fabulous poet. These poems, this quality - rare as hen's teeth, beautiful as the morning after a storm.
Writer George Ella Lyon appears on "Head of the Holler"
A poem by George Ella Lyon