SUZANNE SIMMONS: WINDOWS AND STAIRS (GALLERY)
SUZANNE SIMMONS: WINDOWS AND STAIRS
These are pictures of my first home. Built in 1763 by Ebenezer Swasey, the house sits on a New Hampshire hilltop overlooking the Squamscott River. The old glass in the windows is very reflective and often the reflections of the outside world overpower the images of the interior. This seems to me exactly as it should be.
The house has been empty for many years now. The first time I visited, I pulled up the driveway on a whim, to investigate whether or not the house was truly uninhabited. When I got out, I immediately noticed that an overgrown lilac was blocking the kitchen door. I peeked through some windows into the house and barn and left after a few moments.
But, I couldn’t stay away. Nothing seemed as compelling to me as that empty house, and its stark palette of black and white and grey, surrounded by old trees and flower beds and wildly overgrown shrubs. Life was all around the house, but not in it.
Outside and inside, inside and out, there are tensions along any boundary: our own thin skins, the walls of an old house, or the borderlines that are only visible on maps.
I spent four seasons visiting the property, without doing any research or asking questions of the owners or former tenants, learning only what the quiet buildings and the trees and remnants of gardens could tell me. I wanted my own memories to remain undiluted.
I was happy as I roamed about the fields, bordered by railroad tracks on one side and the river on another. I knew where to find pussy willow and seckel pears and wild strawberries. I knew where to hunt for toads and where to find swarms of black baby eels in the creek. The three huge trees in front of the house, two maples and an elm, kept me company, as did a pair of mockingbirds riffing on train whistles and sirens and gull cries. That patch of land and its particular sounds and smells is the world I imprinted on, the world I fell in love with. It mothered me, and returning to it is a seductive comfort.
Home was not the house but the landscape around it. On the granite threshold looking in, my face pressed up against the glass, watching the outside spill in and the walls dissolve, that’s where I’m at home.
Suzanne Simmons is actually a butterfly. Look closely. See? Yep. Told you. She's also a poet and essayist who lives in the lakes region of New Hampshire. She holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times, Calyx, The Baltimore Review, Miramar, Talisman, Fifth Wednesday, Smartish Pace, and other journals. Her work received the Editor’s Prize for Poetry from Fifth Wednesday in 2008. She is writing a memoir called “Trespassing Home” about her years in the Swasey house. She teaches English at Manchester Community College.