25 Jan 2024
After (and for) Shirley Jackson,
and especially, The Haunting of Hill House
It stood like a silver filling in a village of broken teeth
worn out from the day it was hauled in, surrendering
under the weight of the hills. She too
is too tired to lean straight.
Scour handed, red faced, she passes
eggs and rolls, the coffee jug a mere
extension of her arm, raised
to pour, whilst dreaming all the time
of setting one foot before the next, away
from the rolled sleeves of her mother,
her father’s belt.
Burgers bleed white fat; she flips
to thoughts of the city. ‘Perhaps
I will steal you away’, the stranger says again.
Then snorts, ‘Would you like that, little girl?’ He rattles
his cup against the saucer. She pours again.
He comes in every day now. She knows
he is no more free of Hilldale than she is. But all the time
her pale, naked feet dance away behind her eyes.
Outside, the air is a slab of cold.
A dogs runs past, body lost in the fugged glass,
its bark a ghost.
Behind the poem...
I’ve long been a fan of Shirley Jackson’s novels and short stories – of such unforgettable tales as The Lottery, or the dark psychological thrills of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Uniting my love of Jackson’s gothic writing with the intrigue of her peripheral characters, my poem Hilldale Diner revisits a stop Eleanor Vance makes at the start of The Haunting of Hill House: a small snack bar in the grim village lying below the titular house. I wanted to explore the less-than-enthusiastic waitress Vance encounters there.