Renting a Room at Home

by | Jul 21, 2023

Untitled, from “Thank you for being here” (2023), Asa Muhammad. 



My house is furnished with jars of tar and spit

they don’t belong to me

but take up the empty spaces

Leave the TV on after dinner

to drown the stillness with canned laughter or politicians on the evening news

if the volume is loud enough, then you can forget to dream

shroud a memory in the pillowcase

Don’t ask about my grandmother

try to transmit signals through crossed electrical wires

with careful words that won’t reverberate against kitchen cabinets

Maybe slip through the hallway unscathed and

check for signs of life

listen for snoring

smoke seeping through the front door

stale ashes settling to dust by the corner

ignore the empty bottles clinging to each other

shirts stacked under the bed for warmth

they’ll keep company

There’s not much left

one less imprint of a body on the couch

no more trees in the front yard

no more apples left to pick

just bones wrapped in bandages and soil

I found a note on my mom’s old phone

God will meet you where you are—stop running

(nothing more you can do)

Madeline Johnson

Madeline Johnson

Publab Fellow 2023

Originally from the Great Lake town of Erie, Pennsylvania, Madeline Johnson currently lives in Los Angeles. They hold a BA from Syracuse University in international relations, journalism, and Spanish literature. With experience in research and nonprofit work, Madeline is pursuing a career in publishing nonfiction. In addition to writing poetry and hopefully excerpts for a future memoir, Madeline enjoys creating various arts and crafts while watching reality TV with her two cats and learning to produce atmospheric music. You can find them on instagram @astralprojectme. 

Asa Muhammad


Asa Muhammad is a creative writing student at the the University of Chicago. More an archivist than an artists, he aims to preseve moments shared with him through image and word. This photo comes from his series “Thank you for being here,” created when a few of his friends wanted to commemorate their friendship by homaging the Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here” album cover.