the ghosts of the nelsonville house

Jacqueline Woodson

The Woodsons are one
of the few Black families in this town, their house
is big and white and sits
on a hill.

Look up
to see them
through the high windows
inside a kitchen filled with the light
of a watery Nelsonville sun. In the parlor
a fireplace burns warmth
into the long Ohio winter.

Keep looking and it’s spring again,
the light’s gold now, and dancing
across the pine floors.

Once, there were so many children here
running through this house
up and down the stairs, hiding under beds
and in trunks,
sneaking into the kitchen for tiny pieces
of icebox cake, cold fried chicken,
thick slices of their mother ’s honey ham . . .

Once, my father was a baby here
and then he was a boy . . .

But that was a long time ago.

In the photos my grandfather is taller than everybody
and my grandmother just an inch smaller.

On the walls their children run through fields,
play in pools,
dance in teen-filled rooms, all of them

grown up and gone now—
but wait!

Look closely:

There’s Aunt Alicia, the baby girl,
curls spiraling over her shoulders, her hands
cupped around a bouquet of flowers. Only
four years old in that picture, and already,
a reader.

Beside Alicia another picture, my father, Jack,
the oldest boy.
Eight years old and mad about something
or is it someone
we cannot see?

In another picture, my uncle Woody,
baby boy
laughing and pointing
the Nelsonville house behind him and maybe
his brother at the end of his pointed finger.

My aunt Anne in her nurse’s uniform,
my aunt Ada in her university sweater
Buckeye to the bone . . .

The children of Hope and Grace.
Look closely. There I am
in the furrow of Jack’s brow,
in the slyness of Alicia’s smile,
in the bend of Grace’s hand . . .

There I am . . .


Last updated November 25, 2022