Social Strata

Social Strata

You moved out here to this neighborhood
and quite a step up for you it was. You feel uncomfortable
about stepping out of line and you have the idea
there are things about the place
going right over your head
but you tell yourself it doesn’t matter if you keep up a good front.
That’s why you put the fountain in the front yard. To show
you know how to add value to the property. To make your own mark. To shut up
the rest of the family when they come out here to visit and they tell you
the place isn’t that much better than the old house, really, and
the neighbors are snobs (they have never met any of them) and
why’d you have to spend so much on just a house? They are jealous and you know it
but it doesn’t feel good. So you got the real estate agent to recommend
a landscape firm and you told them you wanted a fountain
in the front yard and you didn’t know why exactly, but
it just seemed necessary to take action.
You don’t know why about that,
either. Anyway.
So they hauled the fountain in and set up the water line and
now the fountain sits
front and center
eight or so feet tall. Three tiers. Your uncle told you
it reminds him of the birdbath you had beside the porch
at the old house.
Some of the kids tried to swim in it at the Fourth of July party
last summer and you’ll never forget grabbing your nephew by the arm
and hauling him out of the second level
wearing only his boxer shorts
soaked and see-through. You are not sure if the neighbors spotted it or not.
Now it’s winter and you have to keep the fountain from cracking
with the water sitting in it and freezing so you
wrapped it up in green plastic
like you used to do with the birdbath.
Now it squats in the yard
big as life
front and center. Eight plus feet tall and wide
of wrapped green plastic. You can’t miss it. Somehow
– and you don’t know how exactly –
this is not how things should be
but you’ve chosen your road
and you’re sticking to it and it will all work out if
you just keep up a good front
the birdbath was a lot easier to manage.

Pink House and Pool small

“Pink House and Pool” – collage, 2002 (?)


16 thoughts on “Social Strata

  1. Your collage is amazing. Wow! I want to go and vacation in that house. Your poem makes me wonder if you have ever tried your hand at writing dramatic monologues in the style of Alan Bennett. You have a knack for distilling character and situation down into telling details.

  2. Oh, powerful. This keeping up appearances.
    The colors of the collage are so inviting. I really, really like it.

  3. Thank you. This poem was sparked by a fountain in the front yard of a house I pass often. People around here wrap up their outside features like this (and fig trees, too, but that is another story) for the winter sometimes. I wondered if these people would do that (when I first got interested in this topic last summer or so) and things just went on from there in my imagination.

  4. Thank you. I like thinking about one detail and then it becomes a whole story. Plus these fountains, well, I just don’t know what the appeal is, but I do see them around and one thing led to another.

  5. Thank you on all counts. Sometimes I think this kind of poem allows me to pretend I am someone else.

    The collage originally was a painting. Not a good painting. One day I decided to take the general features of it and collage them instead of relying on the paint. Big upgrade in how it looked. I had forgotten about this picture until I saw it in the “archives” and now I remember the whole thing and I’m still happy with the result.

  6. So poignant. I think we all have times when we feel out of our element. (OK I feel that much of the time…) It’s more comfortable to “stay in our place”. I kind of admire this person for striving for more, although it might not be the “more” I would strive for. Possessions can be so symbolic too.
    And the collage…spectacular. (K)

  7. I am in two minds about striving. It is good to have a goal, but I wonder how good it is when you feel so out of place and don’t adjust. Was it better before or after? Everything has a price, I guess. This question has always fascinated me, in life and in books when I see it there.

  8. My mother struggled with her working class roots always. I have a number of friends who were raised in privilege and are totally at ease in situations that terrify me, so I guess I’ve just moved up a level from her discomfort.

  9. I’ve been in the same situation and I cope better now since I have more experience and care less but in my younger days there were painful moments galore. Cringeworthy, as they say. !!!

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