After Vacation I’d Like to Come Home to Ruin

“A Failed Romanticism,” a poem by Bernadette Geyer

After Vacation I’d Like to Come Home to Ruin

“A Failed Romanticism” by Bernadette Geyer

The roots of silk cotton trees
draped the slumberous doorways
of Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm temple,
and for a while the photogenic ruins
were left that way for the sake
of tourists eager to outdo each other
in the framing and commodification
of the sublime. Ruin is, after all,
in the eyes of the beholder.
In this case the scholars who,
as a concession to the general taste
for the picturesque, deemed Ta Prohm
the temple best merged with the jungle,
but not yet to the point of becoming a part of it.

Neither nature nor man having bested the other
in this perfect example. And so it was saved
from further deterioration.
Preserved in figurative amber.


When we selected the 800-year-old
priory for our summer vacation,
we told the children it was a castle.
And to them it just as well could have been,
perception being everything when you are young.
Priory to farmhouse. Farmhouse to ruin.
Ruin to holiday rental for two families with kids.

Nothing that lives so long can expect
to retain a single identity. I myself
have been daughter, teacher, wife, mother.

Grazed by our careless shoulders,
the narrow plastered halls in the priory
chipped further, ghosting our sleeves
with their dust. Our midnight snack runs
further challenged by the uneven treads
of the helixed stone stairwells.
And we relished it all, photographed ourselves
against the backdrop of crumbling walls
that once defined a cloister, winced
as the low lintels struck and left on our foreheads
impressions that we’d recount for years.


But to prove not all shambles are so revered —
so pictorial and preserved — the Wagon Wheel Bar
disappeared a mere twelve years after it closed,
after it had served as the ruin to many,
become ruin itself, the surrounding trees and brush
unrepentant in their creep and slither.

We’d grown used to the sight of the bar’s
apologetic slump against the eroding hillside
across the river from the Clairton Steel Works —
landmarks we passed on the way from the home of my now
to the home of my back then. It is likely that no one
had ever called it picturesque, though perhaps
at closing time the view of the mill lights
reflected on the river beyond the parking lot
and across the train tracks gave patrons the impression
of a world turned topsy-turvy so that the coal
and slag barges could slumber among the stars.


Once, I imagined returning to our own version
of Angkor Wat — our grass gone un-mown and ivy
lewdly fingering the brick and siding of our
temporarily abandoned home, finally reclaimed
by the woods that were razed in the 1960s
for this development of split-levels
and mock colonials, cul-de-sacs and carports.

On the plane ride home, I’d wondered
what insects we’d find colonizing the corners
of our pantry shelves, the ants at last
discovering the honey I’d bought to sweeten
my evening tea. Could I come to accept
the gaps in our bricks’ crumbling mortar
the way I had accepted a splintered wood shutter
used to keep out the Tuscan night?

It was August: when what has been abandoned
falls prey to whatever has learned to survive
despite itself — the crabgrass that crab-walks its way
across what’s left when the parched lawn
gives itself up as a grey-brown ash blown
into the panting tongues of sedum leaves, a dust
the scant rains of late summer can’t wash off.

And while a part of me knew we’d been on vacation
for only two weeks, and that the pest control guy
was scheduled to come the first Friday we were away,
and the lawn guys on the Friday after that,
there was a deeper part of me that wanted
to return to ruin, that wanted to know
the magnitude of the necessity of our daily presence.


This house whose walls we skimcoat and paint,
whose fence we mend and whose mortar we seal —
whose photographed before we meticulously place beside
its corresponding and utterly improved after.

About the Author

Bernadette Geyer is the author of The Scabbard of Her Throat (The Word Works) and editor of My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology (Meerkat Press). Her poems and translations have appeared in Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Oxford American, and elsewhere. Geyer works as a writer, editor, and translator in Berlin, Germany. Her website is

“A Failed Romanticism” is published here by permission of the author, Bernadette Geyer. Copyright © Bernadette Geyer 2019. All rights reserved.

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