The Houses Anchored on the Hillside

Rachel Richardson

By definition, a screw

is basically a nail. An inclined plane

wrapped around a nail.

Designed to mate. The male thread

wants the female thread (said

the men who named these parts), as

external and internal want

each other. Facilitated

by a nut. Or perhaps alone:


some screws are designed to cut

a helical groove into soft material.

Once a woman wandered

alone through a stand

of pines, body cutting a groove

in air. Once a woman

drove home from work.

To walk is to lay a path; to root

is to anchor. The tool is versatile,

like the coyote, solitary

or running in a pack.


They lowered

their heads at the woman

in the driveway, they between her

and her house,

lowered them so that their eyes cut,

six of them....


The common use of a screw

is to hold objects together.

What would we say held the pack

there, high on the ridge in El Cerrito?

In the middle of my neighborhood, she said.

They can be turned or driven—


turned or driven, until they reach

a bearing surface. A bearing surface

is often a head. It may, in this

instance, be a body.

Threaded. A bolt.


Another rule is this:

curl the fingers of your hand

in the direction you want the screw

to go. The woman’s hand gripped the leather handle

of the bag she carried—for to hold

is to wield, and it was a weight, it might act

as a bearing surface—


and she skirted them, back around

to the car door and slammed

herself inside, even as two advanced

upon her.


The screw, in short, is any helical device:

Archimedes envisioned the threading

of one material into another by way of a plane.

To turn inward, to curl the hand, rather than

to force. That this would make a tighter bond.


A screw is not force but convincing.


The houses, anchored on the hillside,

fasten themselves to the edge of the woods.

Which used to be all there was. The coyotes

don’t know this in language, but

wilderness is threaded

into their bones. The woman sits

in her car at the top of the hill

in front of her house, punching the numbers

on her phone—


—police, fire, animal

control—as the sun melts into the bay,

its bearing surface. Pulling down the dark

like curled hands holding a blanket to the neck.


It’s a cold night. A fastener.

Meanwhile, animal footsteps.

The silent fieldstones of the drive.

The empty house. The landscaping

affixed gently, with generous spacing, so as

not to overflow the plat.

Illustration by Joey Gonnella

Rachel Richardson is the author of two poetry collections, Copperhead and Hundred-Year Wave. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. A former NEA and Stegner Fellow, she lives and teaches in Berkeley, California.
Originally published:
March 27, 2023


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