When they first moved in, all cardboard boxes
And gentle smiles, from her to him,
It felt quite as if their recent blossoming
Would lead to flowerpots and raising shelves.
After the first time – morning, I remember,
An odd time for DIY – the hammering away
And the calling down the stairs next door,
I resented our early-morning neighbours.
The second time came with flowerpots,
Like I’d thought. A beautiful purple bloom
Which she carried around with her if she left
The house. A magenta embarrassment.
The third time, I first became faintly curious
Of the sheer amount of plywood installations
They were thumping through. That man must have been
Sweating and cursing in there like a man insane.
I imagined the house next door, become
A maze of beaten wood, of tortured shelves
Collapsed on themselves. But cozied in my bed
They remained, to me, the goings-on next door.
I remember their moving out. I had been right,
In a way. The gathering of flower pots
Arranged, oddly, in a name I didn’t know,
And a man-made unit, the final shelf, in pine.
I wonder how many of us really know what’s going on a few doors down. Or, for that matter, how many of us take the time to care. At times I can be fairly guilty of “keeping to my business.”
This poem was in part inspired by Martin Niemöller’s “First they came…” and in part inspired by some contemporary British poets who discuss such unsavoury, unpopular and terribly important themes as domestic violence. Even when reading poetry on the subject, I find, we still have an insidious inclination to put the book down, look away, and try to think about other things. Perhaps some of us are embarrassed by the subject.
I’ve seen a great deal of domestic violence in my life. It is one of my deepest regrets that I could not have done more to bring it to an end, at the time. Older now, I’ve promised myself never to play the coward.