In Corners, Under Frames

Kay McKenzie Cooke Click to

CookeKay McKenzie Cooke is the author of two poetry books, Feeding the Dogs (Otago University Press, 2002) and Made For Weather (Otago University Press, 2007). Feeding the Dogs was awarded Best First Book of Poetry at the New Zealand Book Awards, 2003. She is currently working on her third collection, Born To A Red-headed Woman. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her personal website is “By The Bay”.

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It concentrates, this house, straining with the effort
to remember it once had a green roof
and a garden full of pink phlox.
It’s my mother-in-law’s childhood home

now remaindered as a holiday house
and empty most of the year. She remembers
the tin sheet hammered over the window-frame
after the glass broke, how the wind howled through.

Seventy-something years on and three owners later
we’re here on a day stoked with autumn,
invited to look around.
My mother-in-law notes the things that are the same;

the rotund hot-water cylinder like a rolled-up sleeve,
the wardrobe, its sweet metal catch. A brass hook.
“After coming back inside from the farm,
Pop would hang his coat on that very peg.”

As we look around, the present owner’s foxy
snuffles and whines at the smell of mice
behind the skirting boards. Outside
there’s a persistent view of rocks, tussock

and the lake, of the pear tree with its back to us,
huge and self-important.
The owner tells us that it was in the ’70s
when they first looked at this house.

On a bitter day of snow, she said.
She remembers the sputtering open fire
with two sticks for fuel
and the man and woman desperate to sell,

shivering with the disappointment
of dead strawberry plants. As she describes it all
she points to things unseen,
in corners and under frames.

“I remember it well,” she said,
“The man sat at the table, right there,”
she outlines its shadow, “right there,
eating Weet-Bix with gravy.”


Note: Sometimes a poem just falls out of an actual occurrence described verbatim. My mother-in-law had long wanted to visit her childhood home in Kingston, a small town at the southern arm of Lake Wakapitu. When the chance came to do so, we took it. The surge of memories for her was overwhelming. It was a special thing to be there with her and to be able to place her as a small girl living in this house, nevertheless the most striking image I took away with me was the extraordinary (if unpalatable) one of the man eating a plate of breakfast grain with gravy.

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4 Responses to In Corners, Under Frames

  1. Chris says:

    I like this poem a lot because it is true that every house has a story, and this one’s is simultaneously happy and sad. I enjoyed the imagery in the poem. The title is also of note to me because it is what first piqued my interest, and I feel like the poem is a bit like finding a hidden treasure, just like the recounting of vivid memories.

  2. Sam O'Dell says:

    This poems makes me think a lot of how often I moved as a child. I really enjoyed it, mostly because I thought it was a kind of adventure, moving to a new place, but I also remembered thinking that if I ever grew up and got really rich, I’d buy every single house I’d ever lived in. (Obviously not feasible, but it made sense to 12-year-old me!) For some reason, we grow incredibly attached to the dwellings we spend our years in, a message this poem conveys as well. The woman’s desire to visit her old home and reminisce is one common to most people, I think. I particularly like the moment where the author’s mother-in-law notices a brass hook were her husband used to hang up his coat. It reminds us that often, no matter how much things change, there will always be remnants of what came before.

  3. Drew says:

    “After coming back inside from the farm,
    Pop would hang his coat on that very peg.”

    I found this line to be particularly strong. It reminds me of the little things that make a home so important. The distant memory of her father hanging his coat up on that very peg is something that the mother-in-law so vividly remembers. It’s also interesting about how the little things can matter most. As the current owner of the house remembers the man who tried to sell her the house was eating “Weet-Bix with gravy.” These two seemingly minor memories go a long way in the poem.

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