Poem Friday: Erin Scudder’s ‘To Do in Malibu’ — that ultimate moment of pause, attentiveness, pleasure




To Do in Malibu


Brush hair, brush teeth,

climb down the mind’s

soft-carpeted staircase

from sleep.


Iron the pink robe and put it on.


There are no wailing birds here –

only the sun hums

a mute, radiating

suggestion of song.


Open the vertical blinds by twirling

their thin ivory rotating wands.

Pay gentle attention

to their exhumation

of bladelike,


slightest sound.


Polish the windows,

polish the floors,

open the patio’s sliding doors.


Polish toes with clear paint.


Stand still by the blue stone statue

in the southwest sandstone yard.


Stay still, allowing your mind

to follow the lead of the patio shadows.


Smile amenably into the weight

of the broad clean pool of hot.


Let everything be still.

Let everything be new.


© Erin Scudder


Author’s bio: Erin is the co-author of AUP New Poets 4 and the author (under numerous pseudonyms) of Psychedomus (Fitts & Holderness, 2011). Her poetry recently appeared in Truth or Beauty (Seraph Press, 2014), and has also appeared in various Asia Pacific journals. In 2015 she hopes to publish her first solo book of poems. She holds joint Canadian / New Zealand citizenship and currently lives in Melbourne.

Author’s note: My starting point for this poem was David Hockney’s Californian painting ‘American Collectors’ (Fred and Marcia Weisman). In the painting, a woman in a pink robe or mumu stands looking out at you, half-smiling, in the sun-washed yard of a modernist bungalow. The pink cloth, brushing slightly to the side, is wonderful. I love how just looking at the plain, minimal lines of this picture is relaxing. There are a few statues,  plants, and a man, also in the picture – placed here and there in an orderly but effortless kind of feng shui way. The woman’s look is very serene, very open and calm, but at the same time she has one arm crossing her body and lightly gripping the other arm – suggesting a shyness or self-consciousness. It’s as if she has an instinct towards neurosis but this is at play, is in a sort of dance, with a capacity for deep peace. I imagined her talking herself through the steps of her morning as though soothing herself, soothing her nerves, as you might soothe a child … as though she has had a trauma and needs to only do or notice one element at a time. I imagined a really nice, warm silence infusing this scene. She treats each small action and observation with reverence … I love the idea of ordinary household moments being realised as slow, sacred rituals. Her instructions to herself start out as a sort of coping mechanism but move her into meditative stillness.


Paula’s Note: This poem is as much about movement as it is about stillness. Stillness resides in the palm of its movement and movement resides in the palm of its stillness. An oxymoron, yes. It is as though you climb (ascend, scale)  your way through the poem which is, in turn, climbing through a moment, with steady rhythm, an immensely satisfying measure of beat. It is like reading a mantra (how to be, to be here now), because what this poem evokes more than anything is an occupation of time and place. The finely judged detail renders the moment luminous. It reminds me of a terrific scene in The Tavianni Brothers’ movie, Padre Padrone, when the father tells the son to bend his ear to the stream in order to absorb the world about him. I love the way this poem stalls in the everyday, as if to remind us of the way our eyes become immune to the familiar. I love too the pile up of strong, single-syllable words in the final line that reenact that ultimate moment of pause, attentiveness, pleasure, both in the poem and an external place of your own making.


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