I seem to be collecting ‘house’-poems. 

So, a while ago, on this blog, I wrote about Tom Duddy’s wonderful poem ‘Doorways’. I also referred in that piece to a poem of my own, from The Girl Who Cried.

‘The house with no door’ is here:

from The Girl Who Cried, HappenStance, 2020

Then, last week, a poet-ally pointed me to a Raymond Carver poem: ‘Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In’. 

What a brilliantly rich metaphor it offers, at the same time as a beautiful, natural description of a real experience.

There are parts I’m sure we can all relate to. So, having locked himself out, the poet peers in through ‘the lower windows’: 

My coffee cup and ashtray waited for me
on the glass-topped table, and my heart
went out to them.

That tinge of regret and longing. (The small jolt of shock, and disbelief. The wish to turn back the clock…) Somehow, we have got locked out of our own lives!

I love all this peering in at windows anyway – it’s there in my ‘house with no door’. Plus, there are so many windows in my first collection, Noir – often used to suggest a tentative peering out or peeping in.

Raymond Carver’s story continues. The poet gets a ladder, climbs up to the first floor. Then, finds himself face to face with his own room, with his desk:

This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

Why? I think it’s because this is where he normally writes: that inner life – room – he’s built for himself. (He repeats ‘desk’ a number of times: showing this is the pivotal spot.)

There is an intensity to this strange, and touching perspective, as well as something overwhelming: ‘I don’t even think I can talk about it.’ 

I’m reminded of the Winnicottian idea of finding room inside yourself, somewhere robust you can work and play.

I brought my face close to the glass
and imagined myself inside,
sitting at the desk. Looking up
from my work now and again.
Thinking about some other place
and some other time.
The people I had loved then.

And I, in turn, am moved by this (literal) window onto – into – his living / working / writing practice:

I stood there for a minute in the rain.
Considering myself to be the luckiest of men.
Even though a wave of grief passed through me.
Even though I felt violently ashamed
of the injury I’d done back then.

This is brilliant. Both – all four – of these things true at the same time (the end-stopped lines emphasise that; so, for me, do the satisfying echoes of ‘rain’, ‘men’ and ‘then’). And there’s also a sense, I think, throughout this whole metaphor of how we come and go from ourselves. How we grow numb to cope with pain – but then risk losing all feeling. Locking ourselves out.

And so he ends:

I bashed that beautiful window.
And stepped back in.

And I’m left, again, with a renewed, strong sense of how we can and must build room for ourselves – a ‘house’, self, life – in which to live and write.