Poem: House-sitting

Posted by RDN under RDN's poems on 9 August 2014

My wife and I have been house-sitting near Henley: the large, arty house and its absent household made a big impression.

House-sittingĀ 

I am a figure at a window
in a large house –
one of those exploded gent’s res’s
in Chiltern brick
standing in an arboretum.

Downstairs, the banker’s labrador snarfs
chicken breast and Basmarti rice,
plastic bowl drumming on stone flags;
and his leggy whippet
springs into my room
hopeful of a walk
as improbable as a giraffe or Nijinsky.

Outside, a sprinkler
encourages a brave new sprawl
of woodland plants
out towards the yew fence
across the burly gravel.

I think of Edith Olivier
at the Daye House
painted by Rex Whistler
an hour south of here,
and I imagine,
perhaps invent,
her heart’s restraint,
hard-earned
and guarded by politeness,
against the worst of the disruption
of her love of him.

She was not just the things
she is easily figured to be,
but surely vigorous, quizzical, austere –
his best subject
as his brush
flowed across their intricacies
in which hers was the waiting.

As I live in this big place,
padding about on easy chores,
it has softened,
and softened me.
Its damp patches,
its blistered windows,
the Banham locks in need of oil,
have started to assert themselves.

The paintings —
the prints and drawings and watercolours —
start to speak, but softly.

One cannot say
what is being made in me here:
nothing obvious,
nothing that would stand repeating.

Best just to move the sprinkler,
take the whippet for a stretch
and shift the broody hen.

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