The Witness of Rooms
The heart of our family was the dining room
more than the tight kitchen
with its claustrophobia of cupboards
woodbox on wheels, tilting-out flour bin
that hid desperate-legged beetles
and gas stove whose oven POOF!
terrified me when I was eight.
The dining room had the fridge
and the wood table squeak-stretched to fit eleven.
Beside it sat the bench for four brothers
squished in a row–-the bench where I swayed organ
when we pretended church, the bench I left
seconds before the plaster
crashed from the ceiling
leaving a hole the shape of Africa.
The living room was off the dining room
our house’s holy of holies
cold, and kept tidy for company
though it had the piano
so I was allowed in to practice.
Its cracked north wall showed off Mom’s clever
camouflaging wallpaper vine
its south had a bay window
that nooked ancient plants
under panes of tinted gold and rosy.
There was also a green stuffed chair
and a matching couch
from where, on sick days
I watched the flowers in the curtains
stare at me, then whisper to each other.
That house has another room now
–-one my brother and his wife added
to watch TV and store stuff.
On the other side of the kitchen and two steps down
it has glass doors that gaze
onto an endless field.
They had lately moved into it a hospital bed.
I visit on the weekend of the memorial:
the bed is gone now.
I study the red walls
the only ones in this old house
to have witnessed such a thing.
They give nothing away.
© 2011 by Violet Nesdoly
Two years ago today (January 25, 2011) my brother passed away after a several-year battle with cancer. He died in the farmhouse where we grew up. In this personal poem, I recall some of the scenes the walls in that farmhouse have witnessed. What would be the memories of the walls in your house?
This poem is part of Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.
32 thoughts on “The witness of rooms”
Nice, Violet! We all have memories attached to our individual homes, and this lets us all relive them – and yours!
Violet, so sorry for the loss of your brother. You do a great job with bringing the house alive through details. Some of my favorite lines were:
I watched the flowers in the curtains
stare at me, then whisper to each other.
Thank you, Matt and Tabatha!
Tabatha, we had living-room curtains with large flower heads on them. I do recall when I was sick, staring at those curtains until they actually seemed to come to life! Funny the things that we remember from childhood!
Wonderful images, Violet. I love the way you phrase this: the bench where I swayed organ.
Grieving is such a delicate, yet weighty job. I’ve been blogging about my own journey. This is a beautiful tribute to the memory of your brother.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Doraine. I must check out your musings. The older one gets, it seems the more grief crowds in.
A beautiful, poignant poem, Violet. A wonderful tribute to both your brother and your childhood home and a nice example of the personal becoming universal.
Jama, thank you. I appreciate that “the personal becoming universal” bit. It certainly is what we aim at, but as with any personal writing, it’s readers who say whether that happens or not.
I can see the house clearly as you move in your memory from room to room. It has a sweetness, Violet, of days gone by, not always good, but some just from childhood that are there, locked in, like “Beside it sat the bench for four brothers/squished in a row–-the bench where I swayed organ” I see some of my own memories at different tables in the past from this line. I’m sorry about your brother. It’s a lovely story poem for him.
Thank you Linda! There were many more memories I could have picked. I tried to choose the ones that had a hint of threat in them. I guess I was trying to say that there were other times when things could have but didn’t turn out tragically.
Your comment stage is always so exotic! Thanks for the tribute of appearing on it!
The memories made the hairs on my body stand erect: like a song delivered in the sanctuary of the church where I used to cantor.
Thanks Jeanne! Exotic? Maybe it’s the black and red?
I’m so glad the poem connected with you and appreciate you telling me. 🙂
This is very moving, Violet. When a piece of writing, leaves me as silent as walls, I know it’s something that will stay with me. My grandfather died two years ago today, and right now, there’s quite a lot of death and funerals happening in my life, which might be why this strikes a resonant note in me. I especially like the image of gazing through glass doors onto an endless field–feels like eternity. And I like the way you were able to keep the tension going between the present and mostly unfulfilled need we have for comfort and the hope that comfort will arrive.
Oh Tracy, I’m sorry for your loss! I too am experiencing many deaths and funerals lately– it feels like too many.
I’m glad you picked up on the “endless field” being a picture of eternity–that’s what I was aiming at.
Wow! Thank you for sharing this intensely personal and poignant poem, Violet. Your images put me in that space…amazing.
This took my breath away, Violet – the poem seemed to be going in one direction and then swerved into something else entirely. Very moving!
Thank you so much, B. Magee & Tara! It was a poem that felt good to write (I actually wrote it in February of 2011), as it helped me process the death of my dear bro–the first of us siblings to go.
Awh, so sorry for your loss, Violet. It is a beautiful poem. I love the line ‘our house’s holy of holies’
Hi, Violet. I love the way you structured your poem, so that we get to know the house well before your brother is introduced, and then the hospital bed. By the end of the poem, his absence in the house — such a sense of emptiness. Sending a hug to you.
Thank you so much, Catherine, and Laura! It is so helpful to hear what connects with different readers. And I appreciate the hug, Laura. I wish I could pass it on to my brother’s immediate family.
Violet, thank you for sharing. I was completely captured by this poem. The phrase, “leaving a hole the shape of Africa” became my instant favorite, and then at the end when such a loss is revealed (leaving such empty space)…. well, it’s a brilliant, beautiful poem. Condolences during this season of remembering, and thank you again.
Thanks Robyn. That (the ceiling plaster falling) actually happened. My mom recognized the Africa shape… perhaps on her mind because her brother, my uncle and his family, were living there. Old houses are full of surprising connections, along with joy and grief.
Wow, Violet. What a surprise the ending carries. My sincere sympathy on the loss of your brother. You and I are both lucky enough to have had a brother live in the family home. I love returning to visit, to climb the same stairs I descended as a bride and see my old room. I remember seeing patterns in wallpaper – love that line about the flowers whispering to you. I’d like to try a poem like this just to see what memories surface. Thank you!
Thanks Joyce! Yes it sure is nice to still be able to visit the old home, though we’re no longer taking it as a given. Now my brother’s son is giving it a go… we’ll see if he decides to live there long term. And I think you should write that poem about your house!
“claustrophobia of cupboards”
“squeak-stretched to fit eleven”
“the bench where I swayed organ”
Such language! Please add my WOW and POWERFUL to the list (one of the problems of the Saturday morning commenter — it’s hard to be original!) And I agree with Laura about the structure. All the sweetness of those memories had a different flavor at the end because of the unexpected death. Kind of like life, eh?
Thank you so much, Mary Lee. Yes, that is life… it goes on. But we have our memories, perhaps better than the reality, haloed, as they are, by time.
What a powerful and layered poem. There are many images and phrases that stick with me, but I think especially those that refer to the ceiling and the walls–the cracks and the holes and the ways we camouflage them. A metaphor for our losses. I wish you comfort. The accumulation of losses is for me the worst thing about getting older.
You’re right, Liz. It’s grief, not gravity, that drags down our bones with age.
What a perfect way of putting it, Liz:”The accumulation of losses … the worst thing about getting older.” It is, and there’s no way of holding them back. But what is the saying: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”?
Violet, I love this tribute to you brother and family home. It made me think of my own family home which I just dreamt about.
Thank you! Dreams can sweep away years so amazingly. (I wish I had the ability to access some of those dream memories in my waking moments.) Hope your dream was good.
How beautiful, Violet. The notion of rooms and walls and ceilings bearing witness to shared memories, everyday little things often taken for granted, and the sights and smells of what home is truly like. 🙂