I ... entered the poem of life, whose purpose is ... simply to witness the beauties of the world, to discover the many forms that love can take. (Barabara Blackman in 'Glass After Glass')

These poems are works in progress and may be updated without notice. Nevertheless copyright applies to all writings here and all photos (which are either my own or used with permission). Thank you for your comments. I read and appreciate them all, and reply here to specific points that seem to need it — or as I have the leisure. Otherwise I reciprocate by reading and commenting on your blog posts as much as possible.

3 April 2015

The House That Built Me

The house that built me
was my grandparents’ house
where all the family gathered
for Christmases and big birthdays
in a warm, bustling mass
of aunts, uncles, cousins
flying off in all directions
to raid the orchards
or play with the dogs,
then gathering around the fire
for soup and stories.

Or sometimes just us,
father, mother, little brother and me,
driving down from Launceston
on country roads that were slower then.
The long driveway,
alongside the dark creek
and the waving pampas grass,
up to a real vine-covered cottage.
Nana at the door, beaming,
her arms wide. And inside
silver-haired Grandpa
rising from his writing desk
or his rocking chair.

Decades later, in my own home,
I had such a rocking chair.
Not the same one, but like.
I got it on purpose, of course.
I had the same typewriter, Grandpa’s own,
a black Remington he left me
when he died, when I was nine.
He wrote me so many letters
on that machine.
He knew I would use it
to write poems, and I did,
as well as letters.

The house that built me was surrounded
by trees of orchard and forest
and borders of tall, dark pines.
There were hollows with red bells of heath
where my cousin Suzanne and I
(the oldest two, near in age)
made secret places
to commune with fairies.

I saw my first blue-tongue lizard
when I was five, and screamed —
we’d been warned about snakes —
and my first shy, soft splash of platypus.
We kids knew we mustn’t wander
too deep into the bush
for fear of the hidden well,
camouflaged like a trap
under fallen leaves and scrub.

Legend said a child long ago
had fallen in and drowned,
others had disappeared
and were never found.
Of course we sneaked away
to hunt for the well, every year,
but none of us ever discovered
that deep, deadly place.

The house that built me
had a sunken bath, pale green,
the rim at floor level,
easy for kids. The kitchen
with its huge unpolished table
was full of the smell
of bottled fruit and rolled-out flour,
and the rise and fall of women’s voices.

I never took to the cooking,
though my cousin Suzanne did.
Me, I was listening
to the cadences, and the stories.
I was watching the sleek black fall
of my Aunty Franki’s hair,
my Aunty Ella’s pale gold bun
heavy on the back of her neck,
and my Nana’s ample lap
covered by a thick white apron.

Around the fire of an evening
I heard our histories passed down,
strange and magickal to me
as fairy stories in books —
as the books of family photos
mixed on the wooden shelves
with novels and poetry,
encyclopaedias, travellers’ tales
and fairy stories too.

In the house that built me, I sat
curled on the floor, with my head
resting on my father’s knee.
I knew that my mother
was the prettiest woman there,
my Nana the kindest,
my Grandpa the wisest man,
and my Dad a sure, safe haven.

Linked to 'imaginary garden with real toads', Poems in April: 
The House That Built You


  1. What beautiful memories. I love that you have your grandpa's typerwriter. Is that where you get your writing talent, from Grandpa?

    1. Well, I actually don't have it any more, Mary, though I did for a long time. He was really a step-grandfather so no, my writing genes came from the other side of the family, via my Dad, but my Grandpa greatly encouraged my vocation.

  2. Sigh, I wish I had a home like this. Your grandfather knew who would appreciate and use his typewriter. What a beautiful gift.

    1. Yes, the whole family knew, from when I was quite young, that I would be a writer — I already was.

    2. PS That was my grandparents' house, which we visited from time to time. My own home was less idyllic.

  3. Thank you, Rosemary, for telling us some of your childhood. I do believe that what we are in part is determined by what our childhood was like. Of course other things bend us in various ways after we grow up. THANK GOODNESS.

    1. I suffered some disillusionments later, Jim, but I am thankful I had enough experience of warmth and safety when very young to be a bulwark against whatever else might (and did) come.

  4. This is just wonderful, I'm so glad I read it! It's interesting how we want to carry some of those objects with us--I have two rocking chairs, one from my mother and one my grandparents, and I have my other grandmother's writing desk. I don't think much about these items now, but they are part of my own family's fabric. I really loved this detailed glimpse, Rosemary!

  5. The story of the house that built you couldn't be other than your own story. By the time I was born, I had only one grandparent left and she wasn't very kind to her grandchildren. Still we spent many summer vacation in her house and managed to have fun on our own.

    Thanks for this poem, Rosemary. It was a delight to read it. :)

  6. You have a wonderful store of memories, Rosemary.

  7. This is rich with detail and absolutely lovely.

  8. Your memoir is rich and interesting, i particularly luv the typewriter bit

    Thanks for dropping in to read mine

    Much love...

  9. Grandparents are wonderful things to happen to a child. Typewriters, too. ♥

  10. All sounds pretty lovely. Thanks, Rosemary, for this vision, especially the down under part so foreign to me. k>

  11. The love in this piece is palpable, Rosemary...what a beautiful and rich upbringing built you...explains why you're such a shining gem! :)

  12. Beautiful memories Rosemary! To think that a treasured typewriter could change your life. Not many were privileged with such promptings. Rightly so that you described the houses most brilliantly!