A House in Carlock
After the guests in my dream leave
I walk again through the rooms of a house
I’ve never seen before but built
in the smooth blue interior of my brain.
I find a harpsichord stained
with charcoal dust beside a piano
beside an organ beside another piano
abandoned in a semi-circle.
I bend down low, lay my cheek
on glossy oak to see through a gap
the empty room roughed out and locked
where they hid the damaged brother
all those years, the careless ones
who came before. A cricket wakes me,
persistent in a scarlet song
of mud and creek, of heavy stems
of grasses gone to seed, of hot
beauty and blue massing clouds.
Kirk comments on her poem:
“A House in Carlock” really did emerge from a dream, so the poem’s central narrative of exploring a house with many musical instruments and finding a secret room was something I saw and felt, vividly and eerily, in the dreamworld. (I don’t know what it means, though!) Carlock is a real town near where I live, and the house was in Carlock only in the way you know things in dreams and as part of the drafting process, when I realized what the title was.
In waking life, I love to look at farmhouses by the side of the road when traveling by car or train. I always imagine moving into them, restoring them, giving them and myself a new life that somehow honors (and maybe repairs) the old. I also love old cemeteries, and this poem has the feel of that, too.
The poem also emerged from an assignment I gave my little poetry workshop, which meets in the rare book room of a vintage bookshop. It is adapted from Richard Hugo’s assignment in the book The Triggering Town, which I borrowed from my mother and kept so long she had to get herself another copy. (She forgives me.) Hugo explains that his assignment is adapted from an assignment given by his own teacher, the poet Theodore Roethke, who gave students word banks, “rules” of form, and expected them to do the poem on the spot as a final exam. Hugo gave it as a take-home exam, and I give it as an assignment, with word lists, and an open deadline. So, in a way, the various adaptations of the assignment are like the restoration of an old house.
I read this on the radio in my hometown, for WGLT, the Poetry Radio program now produced by Bruce Bergethon, Kirstin Hotelling Zona, and Bill Morgan. A woman heard it and called me up at the bookstore where I work, saying it gave her chills. She said she would come in and see me, but she has not appeared. I think I struck a chord, so to speak, in her, and I think we are sort of scared of each other now. But we should not fear, as there are many kinds of music in the world, and ways to play it, and the damaged brother lived only in the dream, not the secret room. I hope.
Link to a podcast of the poem:
Reading on Poetry Radio
Note: The music is by Taylor Eigsti (“Pink Moon” from Daylight at Midnight).