Archival Features, Poems

Patricia Lockwood: “History of the House Where You Were Born”

I was reading some Alice Munro, buzzing out of my mind on P.G. Tips. Alice Munro was describing a woman in an Observation Car looking out at the vast Canadian prairies. “What the heck is an Observation Car,” I said to myself. (I find that as a writer it often helps not to know what anything is or what it looks like, because then you can just imagine whatever you want.) So I pictured a big bovine caboose meandering serenely across the grasses, enormous glass windows for its eyes. “Oh my gosh what would its steaks be like, oh my gosh what would its jerky be like?” I wondered, and pictured the Observation Car shot dead and lying on its side. I’d been thinking a lot about prairie towns and railroad towns and small towns in general, and I’d been thinking a lot too about the concept of specialty stores: model train stores that sell you both the railroad and the small town itself; and frame stores with their hanging disembodied rows of gold and black frames, waiting for their art to arrive; art supply stores with their fat tubes of paint; butchers with their glass cases full of the kidneys and chops of any animal; and I imagined the great Observation Car on its side somewhere out in the West, being sliced up to provide all its parts to the people out on the plains, who were hungry, who needed them. (Patricia Lockwood)

History of the House Where You Were Born

First it was the house where you were born—
born tragically, with an Appearance—and so
many people crowded to see that the house
mistook them for hungry, and you balanced
your reflection on the blade of a knife
and said, “I have slices to sell them,”
+++++and the house where you were born
+++++++++++++++became a butcher-slash-
window store,
++++++++++where squares of glass were carved
one by one off the clear animal itself. Your father
the butcher took huge joy in riding out on the plains,
out into railroad country, ignoring all warm blood
in his path, and staring instead at sparse escaped
herds of black Observation Cars, who grazed on
what grass there was. He shot them and carried
them home on his shoulder, and you grew up loving
strong wild strips of them. Their numbers dwindled,
the survivors grew smaller, and he was forced to sell
their skins for spectacles instead. Then nothing was
left but the gold and black bones, and he hung them
and called it a frame store. You never saw clearly before,
surrounded by flashing glass, so lift your head and look
+++++around: your landscape is taken over by Frame Store,
++++++++++++++++++++Frame Store as far as the eye can see.

The frames hang straight and still know nothing.
They believe they are still the body of their animal,
strung and stood up with wire, filled with fat
organs of baby looks. The walls of the frame store
are worse: they were given good coats of white;
they felt paint stroked on and knew what they were:
“I feel hundreds of buffalo nudes being driven off
a cliff,” proclaims the whitest one. Another, even
whiter, feels paint that paint puts on: rouged cheeks
in a row, silver frost
+++++++++++++++on fruit, and rainbows on raw meat.
One feels, still on the palette, blood next to clear blue sky.

+++++++++++++++And all feel glass panes everywhere.
+++++++++++++++And you are the butcher now; you wipe
+++++++++++++++blood on your blue apron. Then the walls
+++++++++++++++that surround you know they are white,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++are sure they feel a picture
+++++++++++++++of the knife-sharpener finally going too far.

Patricia Lockwood‘s poems have recently appeared in Poetry, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, AGNI, Black Warrior Review, and other magazines. Visit her at