Guest House

John Jeremiah Sullivan

When I leave a guest house where I’ve spent a weekend
There’s often this feeling I’ve left it dented or weakened
As if somehow the old cottage had been strong enough
For hundreds and hundreds of souls but not me or mine
After this it would be a spent place and begin its decline
Even crossing the floor I can tell some sag has deepened
I work harder at cleaning than any professional might
Hands and knees at the baseboards, toothbrush to grout
Secret places that cleaners have shied from for centuries
Gloomy infertile gardens praying never to be found
Where the grime turns into a sort of tar, black and hairy
Especially under the oven, for whatever reason, is scary
You have to rub furiously with something wet to make it
Surrender adhesion molecule by brave revolting molecule
At home wait thickening dust and cracks. I am indifferent

John Jeremiah Sullivan is a writer for The New York Times Magazine. His work appears there and in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and other publications. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he co-founded the non-profit research initiative Third Person Project.
Originally published:
March 1, 2022


10 Ways Ms., Sassy, and Jezebel Changed Your Life!

How contradiction drove fifty years of feminist media
Maggie Doherty

How Emily Wilson Reimagined Homer

Her boldly innovative translation of the Iliad is an epic for our time
Emily Greenwood

In the Shallows

Why do public intellectuals condescend to their readers?
Becca Rothfeld

You Might Also Like


Rae Armantrout

Here I Go

Rae Armantrout

Race Point

Cynthia Zarin


New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.