States of Poetry 2016 - Western Australia | ‘At the house where my father was born’ by Carolyn Abbs

'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

'At the house where my father was born' was published in Axon: Creative Explorations, issue 9, vol. 5.2, 2015.


Recordings

'At the house where my father was born' begins at 2:35