Furniture for a room of loss and mourning

I was talking with a friend about the worry over elderly parents and she said “we’ve reached a new phase of our lives”. In older cultures transitionary life stages were marked with ritual and given a sense of meaning and purpose. In our pretend ‘civilised’ culture we plough through with an unmitigated expectation that we’ll bury death and the paths towards death and buy into everything that encourages us to remain silent and treat our lives and those of our loved ones as though they were a contract to be negotiated purely in monetary terms.

I’ve been finding some comfort in Rumi, the 13th century sufi poet. I’d recommend The Guest House with its admonition to treat ‘a crowd of sorrows’ with honour and gratitude.

I keep returning to one poem in particular that reminds me of the stage in life that is passing. I don’t know how I’m going to face the changes we’re going through as a family and hold it all together? I look back at all the mixed feelings I’ve held about my father: how to put those to rest with the dignity and humour that Rumi suggests?

Furniture for a room of loss and mourning

An aura of wood surrounded my father
resolute as the banister we children slid down
to avoid the grief dried out in the knots
and grain of the furniture of our lives.

All the real words sat hiding in a tin bath
at the end of the garden, amongst newts
and tadpoles, searching for relief
until a hot sun evaporated all traces.

The house became full of emotional objects:
a print of Chester clock tower (with real picture clock),
a sewing machine, an asbestos-coated ironing board
(great for scratching), the hope that mum would paint
herself by numbers back into reality.

I made a home beneath the upright piano in the living room
whilst dad tinkled ivory keys on hopeful Sundays,
refusing the religion that grew like fungus
in the damp patch invading the space left by burnt brain cells.

The piano sits there still, playing
an out-of-tune silence, battered, majestic;
a reminder of a love etched like varnished wood grain
into the shadow of all the unsaid things.

About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/F2MN2MT and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at] btinternet.com
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9 Responses to Furniture for a room of loss and mourning

  1. Steve says:

    This is fantastic Colin. I often come back to read it over. Stirring.

  2. litawards says:

    I love the metaphors in this poem. And the connections between tangible objects and deep emotions. Furniture, ornaments etc have so much more meaning when letting go/grieving for the ones we love. I like how you’ve managed to describe difficult emotions through creating pictures/scenes. This makes this poem very visual, atmospheric and emotionally powerful. Dominique De-Light

  3. I love the metaphors in this poem. And the connections between physical things – furniture and ornaments and our emotions. Those items become so much more meaningful when we are letting go/grieving for people, as if we instil so much more meaning into them to help us with the grieving process. I love how you have tried to capture difficult emotions, often unexpressed or difficult to express, in tangible objects and small scenes. It makes the poem very visual, atmospheric and emotionally powerful

  4. Simon Powell says:

    Lovely and sad….

  5. Thanks Anthony. Yes of course I think The Guest House makes it sound so much easier and more straightforward than it is to cultivate the attitude of acceptance the poem commends… but then obviously it’s impossible to imagine the situation of a 13th century Persian Sufi.

    I think the best I can do in my poetry is to ask the question about how it might be if there were a possibility for the degree of an expansiveness that Rumi postulates.

    • Anthony says:

      I think I tied myself in knots trying to say what I did — I’m not very good at commenting on poems, a whole subject in itself. I guess its always going to be difficult to enter those realms, or else he’d not have bothered to write the poem. Your poem is very suggestive of childhood an the immediacy of home and what it means, it can almost make me smell sundays before the shops were always open.

  6. Anthony says:

    Colin — I just checked out Rumi’s poem and loved it of course. But it is not easy to be so loose in our process and response to change, I’m rubbish at it. You’re quite right about the limits of recognition socially of such relationships, the world is so much more, even then maybe there is so much more than world, such openness part of Rumi’s poem. Your poem bringing that more into things, and specific, meeting it and the things in the ways of you. Seeing this poem in this way opens it up for me more than previously I’d managed, very rich, observations such that it opens up to me now a world and opens me up.

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