The Wash House

The turning on was slower done — the firebox stoked,
the wooden lid the copper had, gilded shine of its deep pan.
And side by side two great stone sinks
for suds and rinse, could hold a muddy child.

The place became a store — chook mash,
pig grits — housed a mat and dust of wares,
played host to mouse. Cat found a hide for bed
and laid her kittens there.

One small window choked with web,
light gave way across the floor; each step
softening to listen hard
though you could never say what for.

Warped tracks of tallboy teased, opened to a world of finds.
A jar of pennies turned to bank. Rust crept
along the blades of knives. And each oilskin coat, from its nail,
stiffened like a corpse impaled. The kittens ended in a sack.

The shedding held small lost endeavour, walls with cracks
poached by the weather, dissolved the meanest acts of time
where garden slept in seed sachets, the mewing
ghosts, the lynching strength of binder twine.

by Rhian Gallagher

‘The Wash House’ is copyright © Rhian Gallagher, 2012, and reprinted from the book Shift, published by Enitharmon Books in 2012.

Notes from Enitharmon:

Rhian Gallagher was born on the South Island of New Zealand. She lived in London for 18 years and returned to New Zealand in 2006. Gallagher’s first collection, Salt Water Creek, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection in 2003. She received a Canterbury History Foundation grant (NZ) in 2007 and the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award (NZ) in 2008. Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson was published by the South Canterbury Museum, NZ, in 2010, and her second collection of poetry, Shift, was published in summer 2012. In this collection she beautifully evokes a long-distance love affair as it blooms and ages, alongside the estrangement and joy of a life lived beyond national boundaries. In the three sections of Shift, home, love, and self are each explored in a different poetic style, each given a chance to live freely, for ‘[g]iving up on words is the final failure’. The book won the New Zealand Post Poetry Award 2012, and you can read more about it here.

Enitharmon Press takes its name from a William Blake character who represents spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration. Founded in 1967 with an emphasis on independence and quality, Enitharmon has been associated with such figures as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Kathleen Raine. Enitharmon also commissions internationally renowned collaborations between artists, including Gilbert & George, and poets, including Seamus Heaney, under the Enitharmon Editions imprint. You can sign up to the publisher’s mailing list here to receive a newsletter with special offers, details of readings & events and new titles and Enitharmon’s Poem of the Month.

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