Academic journal article Antipodes

The Room and the Tree

Academic journal article Antipodes

The Room and the Tree

Article excerpt

- after Elizabeth Bishop

The autumn wind blows the magnolia tree,

shifting the shadows in the room.

In the yellow light, the grandmother

is winding wool from a skein held by the girl

who squats on the floor, looking at the photographs

and odds and ends behind glass in the whatnot.

The girl thinks the cabinet is called a whatnot

because it holds secrets about the family tree,

about the people in the old photographs

who are dead. You must whisper in this room.

Chihren must be seen, not heard, remembers the girl.

The ball gets bigger in the hands of the grandmother.

Hold your hands higher, says the grandmother,

who doesn't notice the man above the what-not

winking and nodding at the girl

when the wild wind bends the tree.

A sad girl sits, as if frozen, in an imaginary room

with another whatnot and other photographs.

What's that, the girl whispers, between those photographs?

it's a wigwam for a goose's bridle, says the grandmother.

The girl's arms are getting tired. She hates the room,

the hovering faces, and thinks the whatnot

might as well go back to being a tree. …

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