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The Poets House (For Robert)

Mimi  Khalvati


The poet’s house gestures towards a roof
and a chimney aslant the lemon grove
raised on the first of the bancales which climb
the mountainside towards a daylight moon.
It’s like Waller’s dark cottage of the soul,
dark inside but facing the rising sun
blind-eyed and its rusted ironwork balcony
with room enough for the old poet to stand,
early mornings, sipping coffee, hoping,
hoping today for a visit from the muse.

Pigeons roost in the rafters and the night wind
would bang the door, hanging on its hinges,
were it not wedged by overgrown grasses and rubble.
The poet’s house is for viewing across a valley
where it guards the view. Barely a love nest,
set square against a landscape – harsh maybe,
but softened by olives, pomegranate trees,
scrub dotting the lower terraces and the walls
weathered, bleached, remembering in their plaster
gouges and pocks, the soft pale colour of frescoes.

No smoke from the chimney, no floor for a bed,
but something cosy as a cottage loaf
the way it nests: a square with a sense of rondure.
Does it hear the quietness of the morning
or is it, being centuries old, stone deaf?
A poet’s house that was never built for song,
nor for talk or companionship, for wine
or laughter. And its balcony too small
to sit there reading as the sun moves over.
Set at the foot of the valley, commands no vista.

Negatives, absences, withdrawals, withholdings,
under its red-tiled roof, hold conference.
For the soul is nothing if not negative –
look how its furniture has been abstracted,
it is all shell, shell, shell, the seed of a dwelling,
husk of an old migration. We long to possess it.
We dream of bright conversions, enough to make it
habitable: a floor, a stair, a shower;
a garden but no fence, for the goats, the dogs,
would be welcome; a riot of tumbling flowers.

But when night descends, the poet’s house
is illumined by a borrowed moon, by floodlight
from the castle. Inside, nothing is lit.
Remove its shell and it would stand, a mecca,
kabbah, for the soul to circle, but not
with the eye, the ear, a groping hand
or tentative step, only with the passage
of the whole body, being, the self’s dissolve,
for without dissolve, there is no emergence.
Were it in my gift, Robert, I’d ask you to stay.

Come and sit here with me on the old stone wall,
half wall, half rubble. Let the sun beat down
but the sound of running water way down
below in the gulley and a visible breeze
blowing the oat grass, the very thought of breeze,
to cool us. We should have sat by the pool but no,
here we are, ringed with the sound of crickets
in a central well of silence. Insects hum,
nose-dive past, leaving a nervousness behind them.
Come, let’s brave the door. Or at least its shade.



Mimi Khalvati's 'The Meanest Flower' ISBN: 1-85754-868X (Carcanet) was short-listed for the TS Eliot prize in 2007. ' Poet’s House' is included in her recently published and PBS Special Recommendation: 'Child: New and Selected Poems' ( ISBN 978 1 84777 094 3) She has tutored at the Almassera Vella for a number of years and returns on September 1st 2012 to run a further course: Her website: http://www.mimikhalvati.co.uk/ . 'Poet’s House' employs imagery inspired by the mysterious 'Doll's House' that perches over the ravine opposite the Almassera Vella.


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