Home | An Autobiographical Poem

This was a piece of writing commissioned by spoken-word performance company Watch Your Mouth, for their debut event in February 2016 at Holbeck Underground Ballroom, the theme of which was ‘Home’. I originally wrote this as a poem, but thought it worked better as prose. That is the beauty of ‘spoken word’ and performance poetry: no one can tell the difference.

I was born in water, in the dining room of 82 Alicia Gardens, in London. My sister cut my umbilical cord and brought it into school for show-and-tell. Her teacher phoned my mother and said “Your daughter’s been telling fibs – she’s claiming this is her sister’s umbilical cord!” But she was not telling fibs – my family’s just a bit weird. My first home, though, came years later. A little neighborhood called Fox Hills, in Maryland, thirty-five miles from the Potomac River. Where I learned to ride a bike, and then immediately crashed it into a parked car. By the creek where red leaves crunched in the fall, and cherry blossoms bloomed in the spring, and the clearest water you’ve ever seen. Where tiny fish slipped between rocks to escape our tiny, grasping hands. And at night, when we’d hear cicadas shriek and sing, and in the morning we’d find their discarded shells on the trees and in the grass, and we’d know it was nearly summer. Back in London, my home became the bottoms of closets, nestled amongst long forgotten dry-cleaning bags. And the cupboards above my bed where we kept extra sheets and pillows. Cool, dry, dark places, good for storing rice or pasta or unused wedding china. Or small children seeking shelter from shouting, plate-throwing parent types. When we moved house, and the cupboards were full, with no space for children to hide, I made homes where I could. The roof of the new house, where I’d sneak cigarettes as my mother slept. The empty, dark rooms at house parties where people were too drunk or too stoned to look for me. In the middle of the crowd in a dark venue with the bass pounding through my chest and to my toes. That sweet smell of sweat and raw energy where nothing else existed. Nothing but me, and the band, and sometimes – well, often – the kiss of whatever person I’d found to worship me for an evening. I made my home in the second-hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road, in the record store on Brick Lane, in noise-cancelling headphones with the volume turned up full. I felt it in the arms of the first boy I loved; in his crooked smile and his crooked teeth and his crooked elbows and the weight of his body on mine. I see it in my mother’s eyes that are twins with mine, and in that soft, quiet, lilting Detroit accent of my father’s: his bedtime-story voice. I hear it in the squealing giggles of the children I helped to raise, and how is it possible that they grew up so fast? My home is on bookshelves, and in the audience of theatres, in airports and train stations and reclining armchairs. Under the summer night sky in the Colorado Rockies, the sky so clear and clean that you can see every single star, like someone with a can of spray paint took liberties with the Milky Way. At the top of Mount Royal just before sunrise, sweating from the hike but shivering from the biting cold, the Northern Lights sometimes, just barely, glimmering above. In every key of my late grandmother’s piano, and in the battered body of my twelve-year old guitar. In the people I have kissed, the hands I have held, and in everywhere I have walked. These are the clichés we tell ourselves, the clichés we tell each other. “Your home is my home.” “Make yourself at home.” “I feel so at home with you.” As if we carry them with us; memories, like turtle shells, carried on our backs in every step taken. The weight never getting too much to bear because as they grow, we grow, making space for more. “Home is where the heart is.” And are we not at home? Gathered here, in some function room or bar attic, where we share our homes, exchanging them like crabs scuttling from one to another, and shedding our winter skin for something else. Still small children hiding in coat closets and empty rooms, making space for ourselves amongst long forgotten dry-cleaning and unused wedding china. Afraid, or maybe just uncertain, of what awaits us beyond the door.

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