States of Poetry 2016 WA Podcast | 'At the house where my father was born' and 'Triple Mirrors' by Carolyn Abbs

States of Poetry Podcast - Series One

States of Poetry 2016 WA Podcast | 'At the house where my father was born' and 'Triple Mirrors' by Carolyn Abbs

States of Poetry Podcast - Series One

In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Carolyn Abbs reads her poems 'At the house where my father was born' and 'Triple Mirrors' which feature in the 2016 Western Australian anthology.


At the house where my father was born

'It hurts to go through walls, it makes you sick,
but it's necessary.' − Tomas Tranströmer

I'd expected a labyrinth of small dark rooms, yet
the house was lit marigold        scooped out like a pumpkin for Halloween
Flames flickered and spat in a wide fireplace
       a seaweedy stench had swept in       brushed walls with sea mist
Oak beams as broad as shoulders     seemed safe
                      the floor dipped like a ship

There was a tavern of voices outside
            laughter      bickering     sniggering
gossip in the street       lingering Victorian morals
                     Crash of sea over rocks din of death bells
                                                                       It was 1917

I was through that door    that painting     that wall to god knows where

A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
                        a crinkly unfolding of paper sound
a letter that never came             after the Somme

Her sigh      swish of skirt
          I turned       she passed the mirror      a silvery blur
                     a light crunch of shoe on wooden board
          I saw the horror of her unwed shame in my own face
                     the same mirror that once held her

O to curl into the stillness of that blue velvet chair
                      its painterly stopping of time
Walls giddied me        terrified me       the emptiness of that room
          She was banished
                      He grew as his grandma's thirteenth child

                               * * *

I went through silence        a room bathed with pale sunlight
         It was late afternoon in winter
From a window        across a meadow towards the sea
I saw him walking away
He carried the burden of those walls
on his dark days         dark, dark, days
         Shoulders hunched
         he went towards the sea
                               the openness of the sea
                                                                   the sea...


Carolyn Abbs

Triple Mirrors

 After you died, Nana, I went to your room,
it was dark like that place beneath the breakwater
where barnacles cling and children never dare hide

I opened a blind, a stuck window, breeze fanned
and fanned the room, light across your dressing-
table, triple mirrors. Amidst perfume bottles,

hairbrush, amber beads, your art deco box,
walnut with inlaid mother-of-pearl; guiltily
as if invading privacy, I lifted the lid,

postcards of seaside scenes, turquoise Quink,
stamps, shells, keys, coins, and with sand-like
grit beneath my nails, I heard an echo of the tide
a slow swish, swish...

I tried a jet-diamante comb in my hair, the mirrors
shimmered silver; as if through mist, your blue-
grey eyes came back, three times, to look at me,
waves swept and swept the shore...

the room so empty without you


Carolyn Abbs

'At the house where my father was born' and 'Triple Mirrors' appear in 'States of Poetry - WA'. You can learn more about States of Poetry and read the full anthologies here

Read Carolyn Abbs's biography in 'States of Poetry - WA'

Leave a comment

If you are an ABR subscriber, you will need to sign in to post a comment.

If you have forgotten your sign in details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to ABR Comments. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.