We Once Lived There

26 Jan

Houses and Trees
This house, which
I call
My home

Seems much the
Same as
Others

We held a party
Years ago
To claim it as
Our own

Invited all our
Aunties and
Uncles, they arrive in
BMW’s with bought-last-minute-
Comedy-cards and kettles and
Meaningless ornaments.
All our aunties and
Uncles, other people’s
Brothers and sisters
Our friends,
Out friends and
In freinds and
Friends of friends and
Some of theirs,
All come and
Look around at
This shell and

We shout them down.
We shout,
‘Look! This
Is where
We live now!’

‘This is our
Kitchen!
This is our
Garden!’

‘This isn’t our
Laminate floor,
That was left by
The people before.’

Or the people before
That, before,
That, before that.

‘But the rest
Of this stuff,
Is ours.
We own it. Well –

– We will in
Twenty years or so,
Until then we’ll
Loan it and
Try not to think.’

‘We’ll fill up
This sink
With our dishes
And scrub them
Clean with
Water from
Our new
Chrome-plated
Taps.’

How easily
The memory
Of others
Can be washed
Away.

Mum and Dad
Tore apart
The laminate
One morning.

On their hands
And knees
With bare
Palms and nails
And teeth which
Gritted and growled,

“Don’t just stand there
And moan and scowl.”

The dust was
Everywhere and
With those little
White masks
We looked like
We were searching
For clues at a crime scene.
Piecing together past events.

You’re meant to
Leave things
Just as they are
Before forensics arrive
To prescribe
Evidenced reasons
For this
Or that
Horrendous incident.

Mum and Dad
Tore apart
The laminate

With bare, callous
Hands and cracked
Nails and a
Vicious barking need
For new,
Originally sourced,
Unseen-by-human-eyeballs
Slate.

They roared as
They smashed up
Anything that
Wasn’t profoundly us.

I sat in my room,
My new room,
A room,
While they ran,
Mum and Dad,
Through the house,
Screaming as they
Whitewashed
The ceilings and walls,

Drawing circles
On the floorboards
With chalk.
Sitting on haunches and
Snarling at
Those memories we
Could not share.

How dreadful,
How painfully shattering
The thought that
One day,
Some generic family
Of four, with
Children and a
Little dog and
Knowing parental smiles,
Could stroll down
Our lane to
Our front door and
Stand
And stare,
Arm in arm,
Half smiles dancing wistfully
Across their lips,
As ghosts dance dreamily
Before their
Glow-glazed eyes.

How horrible to see,
From my new
Bedroom window,
Mum, collapsing in
Anguish on the hearth
As these perfect four
Just stand
And stare and say to each other –

“We once lived there.”

Any thoughts?

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7 Responses to “We Once Lived There”

  1. mouthypoets February 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    The start is very like the kids story ‘the house that Jack built’ which I guess was meant to be – it has a real fast pace to it, which acrries us along – I like the static nature of you, the narrator as opposed to the mad, frenetic goings on of mum and dad as they madly try to put their mark on the place. I donl’ know why- but I get confused at the end where the ‘generic family of four’ come to look up at the house and say ‘we once lived there’ – are they the ones who cam after you had all gone, or are they the ones who liaid the laminate floor or doesn’t it really matter?

  2. mouthypoets February 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    that was me, Anne, by the way!

    • mouthypoets February 4, 2012 at 12:43 am #

      Thanks Anne. I have infact not come across the kids book ‘the house that Jack built’, is it worth a read? I like kids books. Ummm, the ending is supposed to bring to the forefront the idea that people have lived there before. Looking back at this version I realise that it is not finished. I have started writing the next bit.

      • Anne February 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

        it’s a nursery rhyme kind of thing really:

        This is the house that Jack built!
        This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
        This is the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the cat that killed the rat
        That ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
        This is the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the cow with the crumpled horn
        That tossed the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the maiden all forlorn
        That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
        That tossed the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the man all tattered and torn
        That kissed the maiden all forlorn
        That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
        That tossed the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the priest all shaven and shorn
        That married the man all tattered and torn
        That kissed the maiden all forlorn
        That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
        That tossed the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the cock that crowed in the morn
        That waked the priest all shaven and shorn
        That married the man all tattered and torn
        That kissed the maiden all forlorn
        That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
        That tossed the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built.

        This is the farmer sowing his corn
        That kept the cock that crowed in the morn
        That waked the priest all shaven and shorn
        That married the man all tattered and torn
        That kissed the maiden all forlorn
        That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
        That tossed the dog that worried the cat
        That killed the rat that ate the malt
        That lay in the house that Jack built!

  3. mouthypoets February 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Hey Matty, Debris here.

    2 main things at this stage of editing:
    You do a lot of things that I feel really work from a slam perspective I.e. Amazing descriptions and hard hitting telling But I think Sometimes that takes over and curtails te literary quality you are capable of e.g.
    — perfect balance = unseen-by-human-eyeballs slate
    — too much = glow glazed eyes

    one I am not sure about ‘how easily the memory of others can be washed away’  because it feels like too much telling BUT you have saturated it in so much detailed showing, especially in a performative context it really has an impact. What do you think anne? 

    Love the line ‘smashed up anything that wasn’t profoundly ours’ I think this represents the really interesting concept this whole poem stands for and that really impresses me actually. You are questioning identify in a indirect way that I think is perfectly poet, especially in a line like that … To offset that compliment… You refer to the house as a shell near the beginning, I challenge that as a cliche. And I would challenge ‘painfully shattering’ as
    A description of anything.

    Next point great use of pace in your meter, word choice and rhyme. I would challenge your use of layout! As a performer, layout can be a great bridge between page and stage, see the layout as an reflection of the performance. I actually have a Paper and a bunch of references by the wobderful Dorithy Fryd on this that I can send you?* because I actually think your performance would benefit from this too becaus it makes you question why you perform things the way you do, you stop relying on natural ability and start imploding 🙂

    I actually interpreted the ending as a previous owner of the house standing outside and reminiscing, which I like but I think you should get rid of the narrators emotional feelings on aboutthat being ‘horrible’. Maybe instead you could just zoom Out and describe the family alone to represet the cyclical nature of this situation and add a dark element to that deacription to reflect the horror in a less explicit way?

    Debs
    *let me know in an email at d.a.stev@hotmail.com and also there is a free playwriting course in Newcastle in May if you are interested let me know in that email too and I will send you the details.

    • Matt M February 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      Hi Debs,

      Thankyou very much for some in depth feedback. I have infact begun to carry this poem on from the point of view of the family outside. Again you’ve read my mind. The line about the shell should read ‘all come to see this new tortoise shell in which we now hide’. I feel like this detracts from what I agree was a cliche’d line.

      I’m also with you on the reaction of the mother and watching narrator towards the end, something I’ll work on.

      By all means, send me that paper, sounds interesting – mattylewismiller@msn.com.
      And as I mentioned, details of the playwright thing would be awesome

      Many thanks!
      Matt M

      • Matt M February 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

        Also, Anne, ‘The House that Jack Built’ definately rings a bell. Pretty sure I was read it as a child.

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