Ellen White Rook

He smelled of burned forests cursed with rain.

He smelled of burned forests cursed with rain.

You could feel the blade that carved him

in the wrinkles of his mouth. He probed

our world with excavating eyes.

Poised to dance on splintering toes

beside a green ceramic owl.

In the beginning, when they told me I was evil,

I thought it was a joke. I was small

and pale. I wouldn’t smile

and ruined all the family photographs.

I asked too many questions. I was afraid to sleep.

Each night, when they came into my room,

I lay still as death, eyes painted awake.

I’ve been to houses where the sacred heart of Jesus

drips, where disembodied fingers worry

rosaries, but none with a demon on the coffee table.

The owl grins in my brother’s living room.

I grew into an old woman nobody fears.

No one remembers when or why

or how the demon disappeared.

I wonder where the evils of my childhood live.

Who keeps a demon in the house? Who doesn’t?

“Even more than a fossil of my past, “I look for the demon we kept in the living room” is the evocation of the trace of a statue that was part of my life for many years, like a pet that you are always tripping over. The demon was a gift to my parents from good friends who purchased it in Mexico, and was always displayed. Following my parents’ death and the disbursement of all their property, I realized that the demon was not included. It had disappeared, evaporated, leaving an impression that was almost touchable, which brought the past into a strange clear, but contorted focus. Poems are always just a trace of our experience in words instead of bones and other kinds of skeletons—this one comes with a demonic dance.”

I Look for the Demon We Kept in the Living Room

I Look for the Demon We Kept in the Living Room

Ellen White Rook is a poet, writer, and contemplative arts teacher who divides her time between upstate New York and Maine. Retired from a career as an information technology manager, she now offers writing workshops and leads retreats that combine meditation, movement, and writing. Ellen holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Lindenwood University and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Suspended, her first collection of poetry, was released by Cathexis Northwest Press in May 2023. Visit her website at ellenwhiterook.com.

Why is this piece your Trace Fossil?