Lost Property

To be alone in the wide room
in the house’s crooked elbow, turning point
for extensions as the family grew
and grew – and grew – to be alone in the one room
nobody needed now, though it might be resumed
like land, for guests or blow-ins, at any moment,
without notice (and that was part of
the appeal, the very tenuous feel of the place) to play there
at five or six: to be immersed though not safe among the things
that preceded you, immediate and limitless,
everything already there, the way the world went on
before you were thought of, that flux, and your small-child
leisure for introspection while others shinnied trees for the same
sense of endless outlook, here,
in this would-be attic brought down to earth, whose breath
was frosty as Mother Shipton’s well, holding the tossed refuse
of older siblings, stages shrugged off: limp tutus, pink as dropped
gum blossom, too big, though you stepped
into them and stood, as if in a fairy ring you might animate;
satin and tapshoes, toe-shoes from a sister’s long gone bit-part
in Hans Christian Andersen, poems called Off The Shelf
that you avidly grabbed for your own, puzzled
at faded marginal doodles in real ink;
dark ocarina whose holes you could never master,
bakelite cracked, spookily fake-organic,
as if a new kind of reptile had laid it,
and a distant, shadowy instrument, lipped, where fingers should sit,
with verdigris your father later chastised you for rubbing –
an oboe perhaps – resisting your grip, but venting
a slow corruption in you as descant,
its distant kin in this vast orchestral silence:
strange octagon you toyed with that would never quite close or open,
squeeze box, little lung resisting pressure, push and draw, your hands
impeded from fully parting or meeting, stretching
in musical secretion, cat’s cradle, ectoplasm,
crimped membrane so vulnerable to puncture,
it made you wince, lantern-thin but giving sound
for illumination. At last: harmonica, cupped, bracketed but not
for all that an afterthought, heart of the whole unpeopled
space, for the way it moulded to your own small wheeze
and gave it a different life, if a pleasure to the player only,
pleasure to make your mouth water, metal, felt, and papery
velvet, though your brother might shudder
at the old spit he imagined pooled there,
to you it was honeycomb,
striving to isolate each note, then giving up,
as if you had many voices at once, speaking in chords,
and could make yourself heard.

Published in March 2009 no. 309
Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan is a West Australian novelist and poet . She won the 2009 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Her latest collection is Hoard (2015).

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