blackbirdonline journalSpring 2013 Vol. 12 No. 1
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Four Porches

Although I grew up in the South, I never referred to the elevated, covered stoop in front of my house as a verandah, and certainly not as a portico. It was always a porch. Porta, a gate (Latin). Porte, a door (French). Another porta, another door (Italian). A threshold, border between inside and out. Attached to the house but not integral to it. But a point beyond which a house ceases to be a house. One does not leave a house until one has descended its porch. Yet one does not enter a house by stepping onto the porch. The front door marks the point of entry, the porch the point of departure. In Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Faith stands there with her pink ribbons, unable or unwilling to venture beyond the domestic space to keep her new husband from falling in with the Devil in the woods. The Devil knocks before he enters, a vampire must be invited inside. When I was nine my best friend climbed the seven steps to my front door, knocked, and, when my mother answered, asked if I could play. I had other plans and told my mother to tell him I wasn’t home. I was hiding behind the door, my right hand nestled conspiratorially between the inside edge of the door and the door jamb. After my mother delivered my message and as my friend descended the steps, she shut the door on my hand. My screaming revealed our shared lie as she flung open the door to release my newly indented hand, my friend pausing on the final/first step, inches from the walk, unsure if he should leave or return. To leave would be to accept the lie and ignore my pain; to return would be to acknowledge the lie and acknowledge my pain. He returned, making sure I was okay, then left. Four years earlier, at a friend’s house outside Columbus, Ohio, I cornered a lost baby rabbit on his porch and scooped it into my hands, “rescuing” it before delivering it back into the wild of our new subdivision, built on farmland, only houses breaking the horizon, only new shrubs offering shade, refuge for rabbits like this one. In my second house in Richmond, a two-story brick box with an uncovered brick porch, one day after school I sat outside with my girlfriend, her on the porch, me two steps below, left hand up her miniskirt. My stepfather came home early from work, his orange MG swinging into the driveway as I pulled out my hand and jumped to my feet in one abrupt motion and my girlfriend tried, unsuccessfully, to pull her skirt down to her knees. Two years after that, we were living three miles down the road, in a house with a full porch, a “rocking chair porch,” with three steps and a railing. When a new friend walked through our new yard, recently seeded and strewn with straw, despite my having told him not to (a second warning, as I’d been warned by my stepfather to keep my “jerkwad” friends off the lawn), I vaulted over the railing and chased him down, tackling him before he reached the street. I lifted my hand but did not pummel him. He ran down the street as I sprinted back to the house, leaping the steps with one stride and bounding through the open front door with another.  end 

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