Jennifer Maier

The Occupant Imagines the House as a Great Fish & Eight Things…
July 18, 2019 Maier Jennifer

The Occupant Imagines the House as a Great Fish


It has already swallowed a century, each year a silver iridescent scale.  For eight, she has lived in its belly, slightly beyond her means.  How well she knows its creaks and currents of air, its slow, digestive rhythms.   How many mornings she has stood behind the large, glassy eyes that stare impassively down on the Park, observing the junkies and dog walkers awash in airy sunlight; and how many evenings felt herself sinking incrementally into the still and liquid night.

Sometimes she imagines the former occupants:  the long dead whose bones are coral, or the others—dense spirits skimming the surface in narrow boats   She’d like to ask them a few things. Why did you wallpaper the ceiling?  Do you grieve for your body?  But their words, dissolved in air, can find no purchase here, and she is not yet proficient in the dialects of silence.

Still, there is no ill will.  They come, untenable shadows, and go, stirring the boughs of tall firs.  Today too the sun appears; birds call across the surface of the morning.  Song of dissolution, song of light.  She turns from the window as the thought rises—the house is a fish, and I — and glides into shadow, softly as the back door opening, closing.



Eight Things the Occupant Thinks About While Making a Cake

and One That Does Not Occur to Her

1. Whether it’s possible to step figuratively out of one’s body, observe oneself with the detached neutrality of a stranger.

2. Probably not.

3. Whether some other person—e.g. a stranger from the future—seeing her framed here, in the serene light of the kitchen window, beside this orange digital scale, this scattering of currants on the counter, would feel the same prick of ineffable sadness she felt observing Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance last week at the museum.

4. Yes. What kind observer would not be moved at the sight of the pensive baker—herself!— ringed by the quaint tools of her craft, and who, though centuries dead, is quickened in this moment of perception?

5. Even so, the objects that survived her—the rubber spatula, the yellow mixing bowl— now housed in the museum’s 21st century collection, speak only of their time, while those in Vermeer’s painting seem undying: the instrument itself, held light and empty in the woman’s hand, the coin-like weights and heavy ropes of pearls that spill from the box beside her, too large, certainly, for the balance to contain.

6. Of course, for the people of Delft, these things—along with the miniature Last Judgment that Vermeer hung on the wall behind her—would have testified to his subject’s place, poised between this world and the next, where her life, like their theirs, would be measured grain by grain; while the less eloquent tools in Woman Making a Cake may only recite the facts of mankind’s deathless love of sweet confections.

7. On one side cake; on the other, the resurrection of the body.

8. That on the wall behind her is a mirror, which seems significant, though she cannot decide if it is a sad significance or a happy one, or whether the stranger, in the light of her own time, would see in it a plenitude or a void.

9. That while the woman has been weighing these things, the mirror has been painting the back of her head, the flour sifting softly into the yellow bowl, the five panes of the kitchen window, the green tops of trees, and, minute by minute, the singular colors of the day going down and the night rising to meet it.

Jennifer Maier works as a professor of English at Seattle Pacific University, where she also serves as Writer in Residence and Associate Editor of the arts quarterly Image.  Her work has appeared previously in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, American Poet, The Writer’s Almanac, and elsewhere. Her first book, Dark Alphabet (Southern Illinois UP), was named one of Ten Remarkable Books of 2006 by the Academy of American Poets. A second collection, Now, Now, was published in 2013 from The University of Pittsburgh Press.  A third, These Bodies Are Not Our Own, is nearing completion.