Housed (and other poems)


One-fifth of my blood surges through my placenta 
as we speak—

a temporary organ transmitting life between two bodies, 
a two-faced, double-feeding, 

that uncanny third thing that coalesces between us, 
the veins 

and arteries of which, if unraveled, would stretch 
for 35 miles.… 


Reader, a house is never the same once you’ve stepped inside it.
The tiniest motes 

of your energy alight and gather in corners, just as the house
saturates your bones. 

Some of my baby’s cells will linger inside me for years, decades even, 
until I’m an old woman, 

harming or protecting me. Or neither, 
or both.


My nipples blossom outward, brown flowers cleaving open. 
Their former surface—

the one just for me and my lovers all these years—has ruptured
at the center, 

splintering painfully. The baby expands beyond the bracket 
of my pelvis, 

my ligaments shrieking. Garbes asked herself, in the delivery room, 
whom, if it came 

down to it, her body would choose to save—her or her baby? 
For 32 years, 

my body was one body. I can’t help but feel both awed 
and betrayed. 

But little fetus, incoming human, I’m starting to love you, 
or at least the idea of you, 

of rocking you in the softly-lit white noise of your nursery.
I wake in the night 

and hear your mother breathing beside me. Something 
mammalian kicks in, 

and I want to curl up with warm bodies in small spaces. 
My womb is ever-

expanding, like the skin of the universe. Who contains whom?
Your very first room.

The Places I’ve Lived Inhabit My Body—

houses fluttering their doors, flashing
their interiors—pockets 
of light and shadow that held my body once, 

insisting I hold them now. 
They yawn and blink and beckon—
sand-colored rooms, blue rooms, coral rooms, 

carpeted rooms, rooms with tree-filled windows,
with books in stacks, and pianos
with plastic flowers dancing on top—

each room with its own soundtrack—
Annie Lennox, Lucinda Williams, 
cracking pipes, clinking dishes.

My fields and rivers and forests 
unfurl too, I feel them creasing 
and reeling—rain-black roads 

lined with honey locusts,
lichen brocading across split-rail fences, 
the Hudson crackling with ice floes.

My child’s body climbs around inside me—
swims, tumbles, spends all day building forts 
in leafy corners, like I used to

or like I never did. 
What do I do with all these jostlings? 
And what about all the places I feel 

but can no longer enter? 
Locked rooms with hidden doors,
sighing inside me with their dead lush breath.

Dear Virginia,

what room were you in when you wrote the haunted house? When you wrote the short story and also the haunted house itself, ghosts floating among its walls like diaphanous organs. You built it, and I couldn’t make it beyond the third paragraph (those shifting pronouns!) without being transported—to the house you pen-stroked into existence, yes, but also to the house that housed you while you wrote. To you, that room would have seemed mundane, if not mundane, then beautiful and home and yours but also a trap, that room, that house, trapped as it was in modernity, steeped in darkness even as the light streamed in. When I walk your house, I smell your smells. I taste your tea, I hear your clock ticking on the mantle—so familiar, yet utterly strange, I’ve never heard this clock before, this is not my house, this is not my time, and now we’re in a third room, Virginia, not yours, not mine—the uncanny’s. But Virginia, we could trade rooms, trade centuries, and still feel trapped. 

What Lives in My Body at 3:30 AM

Clocks that tick like the flicking 
of tiny knives.

Clocks with dark, knowing faces, 
carapaces curled 

against the soft backs of my knees.
In my chest, a massive tangle of gears

ratcheting time forever. 
When my son, holding up his tiny finger,

pleads one more minute! my heart—
galloping as we speak

like a bullied metronome—breaks.
A new life, the size of a mustard seed

swells in my lightless womb: 
clocks will take her soon too.

I try to travel back, to remember 
being free, clocks snicking 

all the while in their perfect, 
bullshit increments. Once, 

as a teenager, 
I swung out on a rope over a river—

in a tunnel 
of ferociously green leaves, 

quavering, uncountable—
and hung and hung 

at the apex


  • Cassie Pruyn is the author of the poetry collection Lena, winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry and finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Her poems have appeared in AGNI Online, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review, Poet Lore, The Common, and others.

  • Stills from The Third Man, a 1949 film directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene. The film stars Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard, and depicts the chaos and corruption in Vienna following the Second World War.