This is a photo of my house
It has pink bricks and a big tree. This is the driveway, you can lie on it in the summer, it keeps you warm if you are wet. This is the screen door, swallow. Front green door, hold your chest. The carpet is dark grey and hurts your knees, it doesn’t show any blood. Here are the walls, be careful of the small girl in the corner. Here is the door into the hall, be careful of that too. Here is the line where the carpet stops and the kitchen starts, that is a different country—if you are in the kitchen you are safe, if you are in the lounge on your knees you are not. Watch out for the corners. She isn’t going anywhere. There is the piano. There is the ghost. Here is the hall, it is very dark. Here is the bedroom. Here is the other bedroom, babies come from there. Here is the last bedroom, it is very cold, there is a trapdoor in the wardrobe, it goes down under the floor and you can hide if there is a flood or a tornado. There is the bath. The aunty punched the uncle in the face till he bled, they lived in the small room, the cold one, that was before I was born. Here is the lounge again, here is the phone: ringthepoliceringthepolice. Here is the couch, it is brown, watch out for the man, he is dangerous. Here is the beginning of the lino in the kitchen again, here is the woman. Watch out for the girl in the corner, she is always here. There is the woman, she just watches and then she forgets.
I am cutting a big hole in the roof. Look down through the roof, there is the top of the man, you can’t see his face, but see his arm, see it moving fast.
I am removing the outside wall of the bedroom. Look inside, there are the Spirits, that’s where they live.
Stand outside in the dark and watch the rays come out through the holes—those are the people’s feelings.
©Tusiata Avia, Fale Aitu | Spirit House, Victoria University Press, 2016.
This is not a favorite poem. It is not kind or gentle on the ears, eyes or heart. But it is unforgettable. Its quiet violence, the way it creates in-breaths of silent horror through concrete objects, the materiality of the powerful against the powerless in domestic spaces, the neutrality of nothing, imbalances me. The manner of this poem reflects the nature of domestic violence – that all is seemingly known and visible, like a normal brick house on a normal street, and yet, inside the walls thrive secret spirits inhabiting the dark corners of our lives. The voice in the poem remembers and pries open these walls, as one would do with a doll’s house. She stands back and notices the pinprick light escaping through the openings she’s made. This is how she begins to exorcise secret pain. This is how memory might work.
Selina Tusitala Marsh
Selina Tusitala Marsh is Associate Professor of English and Pacific Literature at the University of Auckland. She is of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent. Her first collection of poems, Fast Talking PI (Auckland University Press, 2009) won the 2010 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry. Selina was the Commonwealth Poet for 2016 and performed her poem, ‘Unity,’ for the Queen at Westminster Abbey. She was made Honorary Literary Fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors’ annual Waitangi Day Honours, 2017.
Tusiata’s collection is longlisted for The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.