The front world, and the back

In The Girl Who Cried I have a poem about a ‘house with no door’. Tom Duddy’s wonderful poem ‘Doorways’ is very different – but, for me, it touches on related themes.

by Tom Duddy, from The Hiding Place, Arlen House, 2011.

I wrote recently about my sense of living ‘a double life’, or two lives running in parallel: the visible, and ‘the understory’. And Tom Duddy here – with all his characteristic gentleness – helps my thinking.

Such an intriguing layout – those three long lines representing the ‘three doors across / the middle of the old house’. I love the term ‘the old house’ – so many of us have one, and I think it instantly transports us, if not to our own, to some imagined place.

Tom Duddy often opens magical doorways in his poems. For me, this one works beautifully literally. But it also works as a metaphor. Just occasionally – and how ‘rare’ it is, and therefore precious – we see a system or person clearly, as they really are: both what’s visible on the outside, and what’s led to that, or is working away behind the scenes.

And there’s gentle comedy too, an empathic poking of fun at us all. So much we defend against needn’t be feared.

In this poem we ‘see framed / in the third doorway a back world / of hen-run, dunghill and dock-leaf clump, / far removed from the front world / of pathway, clipped hedge and rose.’

The lists he’s chosen are wonderful, and slightly absurdist. How can we not smile at all the human effort that goes into tending ‘the front world’?

At the same time, that final word, ‘rose’, pricks. And a ‘clipped hedge’ may make a great straight line – but ‘clipped’ itself is such a loaded word. Clipped wings. Clipped speech – which we deliver to each other when frosty and hurting.

It’s curtailing. While out back, there is so much of value. The ‘hen-run’ where we get our eggs, the ‘dunghill’ which nourishes the soil, the ‘dock-leaf clump’, which can calm a sting.

And I love those slamming doors. Whatever is seen here, it’s a fleeting glimpse – it happens rarely, ‘on a halcyon day’, and lasts only ‘for awhile’. One ‘draught’ and ‘without warning / from nowhere’ those doors all slam ‘shut in one go.’

It’s like the boundaries slamming closed inside us, and between us. We can’t help it: we all respond involuntarily to the subtlest currents. (Again, I think of my ‘house with no door’ – or with a door so closed it’s like no door at all?)

Which may make it ‘rare’ for us to catch sight of each other as we really are.

But once seen, we’re never forgotten, we never forget. And there is, at least, tenderness in that.

The Girl Who Cried is available from HappenStance – and on special offer for December.