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poetry How to Unbuild a House

California poet Patrick Daly writes in the wake of January 6, 2021 about “that other House” endangered by a mob or by “An angry man/red and orange like a flame?”

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How to Unbuild a House

By Patrick Daly

They start with a reciprocating saw—

it cuts wood and masonry and snarls like anger

but our neighbor is not angry, only bored

with her house, tearing it down for a tower.


What of the spirits, the life gone into the walls of the house

generation upon generation until the house

is layered like the ground it stands on,

and unfolds like a tree?


It takes strong tools to cut down the tree that is a house,

a loud, tigerish snarling. But these men are just men

whistling and chatting.

The tiger is elsewhere.


What if this were that other House

and all that is in it? What do you need to fell the tree that is a nation?

Is a mob enough? An angry man

red and orange like a flame?


A mob with guns and blunt weapons,

handcuffs and a gallows?

How much blood on faces, clothes, the ground?

How many shots,


how much bludgeoning to death,

how many tools sharp and blunt, how much power is enough

to bite up the roof and walls and rooms of a great house

till it falls?


What does it take to scatter the souls

that have leaned together so long they seemed like one soul

all the joys and makings and memories and miseries of a nation,

to crumble it all to dust in the air?

Patrick Daly has published poetry in many magazines, most recently in Ekphrasis and The Sand Hill Review, and poems of his have appeared in the anthologies The Place that Inhabits Us, A Bird Black as the Sun, Transfer 100, America, We Call Your Name, and Extreme Sonnets. His poem Words was a poem of the year in the New Statesman (London) and his poem Tiananmen Square received honorable mention in the Pushcart Prizes. His chapbook Playing with Fire won the Abby Niebauer Memorial Prize.

He and his wife Charlotte were the founders of Out of Our Minds, a prime-time poetry show still running on KKUP radio in Cupertino, California.