What dwelling shall receive me?
—Wordsworth, "The Prelude"
In the Lake District I had no money,
no place to sleep, and no other option,
so I slipped past the poet’s house
and broke into the barn behind Dove Cottage.
At dusk, when the tourist crowds had returned in buses
to their B & B’s in Grasmere,
I stole like a ghost through the gardens,
quiet and still in the growing chill and dark.
I found the barn doors secured with a sagging chain,
but back then I was so skinny
that when I pried the doors apart
I easily slipped inside.
In the barn’s obscure warmth, I stood listening.
Soon my eyes could make out shapes—
a wheelbarrow, a work jacket hanging from a beam,
the silver grains of my own breath catching moonlight.
I fashioned a bed of fragrant hay,
wrapped my poncho around my shoulders,
lay my head on my knapsack, and slept.
Sometime in the night the snarling
of leashed Dobermans woke me.
The watchman blinded me with his torchlight.
"You mayn't sleep here," he said,
his accent strange and dreamlike to my sleepy ears:
Romanian? Finnish? "You mayn't sleep here,"
he called out again as I departed the cottage
through the whitewashed front gate.
Walking the road beside the lake Wordsworth immortalized—
the night crisp and clear, the lake full of light and shimmering—
I imagined the hills and crags watching
as I hiked the midnight miles to the deserted village.
A small brick station that sold tour bus tickets
was well lighted, but locked and empty.
Around back I found the men’s room bolted,
but the handle to the ladies’ room turned
and the door opened.
I spent the night on the concrete floor
of the single toilet stall,
more or less content with the arrangement.
I remember my last breath before falling asleep:
I drew air deep into my chest, held the breath,
then released the long, slow sigh I'd been holding back for years.
Richard Jones's new book, Stranger on Earth, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon in 2018. Editor of Poetry East and its many anthologies, including Paris, Origins, and Bliss, he also edits the free worldwide poetry app, “The Poet’s Almanac.” www.RichardJonesPoetry.com
See more work from Richard in 4.1 and 4.3