“Counting-Book for Matthew” by Katy Gunn

recovered from a cave


I went walking for days
to see all the houses
and their things

in their places:
pots on porch steps
and knockers on doors.

On a blue house’s
wraparound patio,

eleven small desks
and desk chairs
in a row.

A sign hung above them
said Spaces for Pupils.

I learned enough
to make you
a counting-book
while you were gone.


There was brick,
wood, and iron,
stucco and stone.

frame houses,
stained glass walls,

all you could want
in this town.


During the tornado
you were in the best possible
room of your house
and the rest of your house
blew away
and caved in.

Both of these:
blew away
and caved in.

I wonder which rooms
of these homes
are the sturdiest.

I wonder in which
you might stay.


Another lovely window box.
Another lovely wicker chair.

A brown plaster dog
holding a platter
on the edge of a porch

where somebody put him.
Somebody else, children.


Inside a yellow envelope,
I wrote,

I want you housed.

A statement
is a building.

It may be made for you
to walk in. Sometimes,

it is not yet made,
or it collapses
the second before you
see or hear it.

The pile of half-bricks and iron
is better. Isn’t it better to know
a work you have made.

To know the next person
who sees it
may put a doorway
where you have not,

may make a meaning
from glass.


I also saw a swan
made of metal on a roof.
I did not expect it
to make me feel nothing.


Three, four, shut the door.
Five, six, pick up sticks.


In a mirrored gazing ball
on the back of a gnome,

I saw other gazing balls,
birdbaths, and roses.

Since the tornado,
lawns like this
have been scarce.

So have cars, gardens,
housing. People nestle
who have never nestled.

But it missed
this part of town.
I hear when you’re back
you might move here.


I wanted to tell you
every house has a garden,
but I knew you
wouldn’t believe me,

so I wrote, Almost
every house has a garden,
which wasn’t true enough.


every house has a garden.

A statement
is materials.

In the pile is a word
you should recognize
with your body.

This word is the wood
you will trust
to be rock:

the keystone
to strengthen the rest
of your home,

to build all your breakables on.


Seven, eight,
lay them straight.


Your house should have
no patio, grill flat, or porch.
I want all the green I can find you.

Like the road-end mansion
fallen in with vines.
I mistook some for ladders.
I mistook others for snakes.

I stepped over kudzu and ran into pines

crusted with cicada shells
burst open, empty
or half-filled with bug.

All red eyes and crawling
out of itself from the ground.

Some flew.
Then back to the kudzu and pines.

Once I had passed,
it was beautiful to think of.


Behind all the houses,
so many trees.

You couldn’t walk
to the middle of them.


I walked toward the middle
and saw a little opossum.

I wanted to hold its hand,
but its hands were full
of broken twigs.

I kept walking for days,
studying marsupials
and hands.


I wrote you,

I’ve been thinking
about marsupials
and hands.

Sturdier statements
are built of easy
detestable words

that cement together
and cannot be dug up:

because, only,
wanted, should,
meant, really.


are homes
for their children.

In danger, they fall
and play dead.
This response
is involuntary.


Opossums are most comfortable
underground but do not dig.

They crawl into tunnels
and live with whatever
they find there.

Say, rabbits.

See ten babies
in a belly pouch
in a bunny hole
in the ground.


You will have
no house.

I am finding a place
to take you instead.

The only woodscraps there
are bits of tinder,
whittle chippings,
and pick-up sticks
painted red and blue
and waiting.


Cicadas stay underground
until their time to mate.

Toads stay underground
until called to eat

twice their weight in ants
or termites. Termites eat
our homes. We go underground

in times of distress.
We call this mother earth.

Think about marsupials
and the term homebody.


I found a good rock roof for you
to put on rock walls.
If something blows it off,

we will shift a little
and it will be a rock table,
rock shelves.


Yes, there are certain wants
I have for you. More
dark. More zipper spiders.

One small hole or window
so we can be safe
but still see what is coming.


I could have broken open
any one of the houses I’d passed

and it might have spit out
a mother for us,

her children a quilt
sewn snug around her,
her hands free

for the first aid
box of her arms.

She would tend to my blisters,
send my letters to you.


If you move into those houses,
you will only see children.

I saw many
of varying heights,
clothing, and items

thrown from their hands.
One was tall and juggled
in the space between two windows.

Two wore women’s slips
and tossed a bunny back and forth.

On and off
and on and off
a gray stone porch.

I could walk to the house again.
Still they would throw the bunny.
It wears a pink bow.


Two more children
tossing a stuffed toy,
one in, one out.

Two children in a kitchen
talking about husbands
loud enough to be heard
from the garden.

Marry, they will say,
and contradictions.

I listened and thought
about gardens,

how they are gotten,
how they can grow.


Nineteen, twenty,
my stomach’s empty.


You will be a yellow house
for me.

I will paint your insides,
ribs for scaffolding.

You will want to shake
but for my sake
you will not move at all.

More poetry at Used Furniture.

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