The writing community lost a fine poet and friend last month when Ron Houchin passed away from a rare form of kidney cancer. I first met Ron when he attended the inaugural Mountain Heritage Literary Festival (MHLF), and our paths crossed many times in the years since then.
Ron was a consistent attendee at MHLF, and he never missed the Saturday morning hike led by my friend Tony Maxwell. Each year, Tony chose a walk that would eventually lead to the Pinnacle Overlook at the top of Cumberland Mountain, and Ron was always there. In the photo below, taken in 2017 and shared by Thomas Alan Holmes, you can see Ron standing second from the left, wearing his trademark baseball cap.
Thanks to Tony’s suggestion and Alan’s organization, a small group gathered at the Pinnacle Overlook on Sunday morning to remember Ron.
I wish I could share all of the wonderful stories that were told. Ron was often quiet, especially in group settings. He was one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever met. Those factors combined with his obvious talent as a writer could feel intimidating. And yet he was incredibly kind and generous with his time and energy, and he often surprised us with his witty sense of humor and his always perfect delivery.
Ron published a remarkable body of work ranging from poetry to short fiction and a young adult novel—ten volumes that will keep him and his voice from ever completely dying. We read a few of his poems on Sunday when we gathered on top of the mountain. I didn’t read a poem, myself, although for weeks now, I’ve been carrying around my copy of his 2009 collection, Museum Crows, one of four titles published by Salmon Poetry. The first poem I opened to was, “When you are not there,” a perfect poem for a time of loss.
When you are not there
Five granules of pepper
and three of salt lie on the table
beside two clear shakers.
On the floor a ray of sunlight
lands beside the dog dish.
It creeps over the bowl
while the dog sleeps.
In his dream, he growls,
but the sun beam does not hesitate.
Its bright tongue licking over
the edge of the dry food wets
it with light. The dog blows
out his breath, feet twitching.
Across the room, a tall glass,
empty but for three ice cubes,
clinks and settles its coldness.
Behind the refrigerator, frail
cobwebs, in the pattern
of someone’s initials, wave
in wind from the furnace vent.
Like the music of fear, the red light
of the security system keeps time.
When you are still not back, a full,
pastel moon peers in the big window
over the breakfast nook.
These things, and the bright planet
Venus shining through
the storm door, will not ask your
whereabouts or why the car is not
ticking toward coolness in the garage.
But the dog will wake soon
and whine for you and fresh food.
The philodendra will take
a week to miss you.
The tall water glass, still on the counter,
whispers tragedy in strains of evaporation.
5 thoughts on ““When you are not there” by Ron Houchin”
Very moving poem. Thank you.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow. So perfect. Sending more hugs, Joanne
Beautiful post. Ron will be missed.
Denton, thank you for sharing this. I am sorry for your loss, grateful
to read that beautiful and apt poem.
PS: What happened to the dog? I worry about the dog.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh, Cathy, I don’t know! But such a good question.