Posted by: John Looker | 12 June, 2012

THE HOMO SAPIENS GUIDE TO MAKING A HOME

Here we are, another poem looking at life through work:

.

THE HOMO SAPIENS GUIDE TO MAKING A HOME

First the site. Perhaps a hacienda,
and hired hands engaged in the deafening clearance
of traumatised forest,
a task of relentless sweaty labour.

Then orientation, and here’s a delicate assignment
for the architect: a town-house
for a self-made factory boss
obsessing over ancient rules of mystic alignment.

Foundations: and high
on precipitous hills the hard-hats are piling –
and driving’em deep – to anchor a new condominium
on the slopes of the sky.

We’ve made a start …

Walls of adobe, begun
at dawn; at noon
suspended, as villagers lie in the shade
eviscerated by the heat of the sun.

Meanwhile, in a glass box, peering through rain,
a shivering figure pulls the concrete floors
up like robes to the knees, to the waist, to the chest
of a tower crane.

All day a thatcher has lifted and pinned
reeds to a cottage roof and now,
with arms scratched and back aching,
looks up and dares the wind.

The power has failed. It does from time to time,
and this is the chance
for those who are quick
to join their new-made dwellings to the over-extended line.

We’re making progress …

Little by little they colour the rooms with paint.
The radio helps. Then someone slips and smacks five fingers
and a palm into the wet. They pat that hand
on a still-bare wall – and smile: a perfect print.

Elsewhere, she turns away from the screen
content. Yes, her eyes are tired,
but she’s chosen furnishings for every room
that in her mind would hardly disgrace a queen.

            And now we have a home …

a cottage, a townhouse, a penthouse apartment, a shack.
It is a bastion where we may bolt the door
against the shadows from the forest;
a nest, a burrow, where we dress (or not) as we wish
for no-one observes us;
a stage on which to parade before guests
with our chosen props on display;
a base camp, a launchpad, a jetty.
With our favourite music playing,
with photos on the wall,
we’re at home, we’re at home, we’re at home.

 

© John Stevens 2012

This concludes the first section in a series of poems ‘Looking at Life through Work’. If you are interested in the others, click on the Category opposite, or click on “Work” in the Tag cloud.

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Responses

  1. excellent finish to a great series John.

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  2. Hi John
    I liked it more and more while reading, it was as if the poem also got build.

    “It is a bastion where we may bolt the door”
    We should be living in caves, groups of family, close together near the fire, sleeping under bear rugs. Every home somehow seems a replica of such a cave, one step further away from the original concept. 🙂

    This was a good series! Looking forward to your next project.

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    • pardon: this was a good first section 🙂 of the series!

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      • Thanks Ina. I have the first few in draft – I’m just living with them for a while.

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  3. It’s exactly how I feel after forming a new family in January this year. The feeling of getting home after a busy day of work and meeting my wife is incredible. Great work, my friend!

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  4. When I was growing up a house was a home.
    Somewhere in the subsequent 40+ years we have lost that and a house has become an asset!!! To the detriment of us all methinks.

    I was playing ‘What would we do if we won the lottery’ with some friends at the weekend. We designed the home we all wanted to live in – separate living accommodation but one large communal room which incoporated the kitchen – the sort of kitchen which has a bottomless teapot on top of the stove.

    We had lots more detail – I wont go on. But essentially we were designing a home, not a house.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this series John

    David

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  5. Thank you very much for your comments everybody. I was not sure how you would all react to this one, especially given its length – but, as Ina says, it was meant to build itself up.

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  6. hmmm I feel like this poem is a bit out of place in this series…the concept is good, that of being a builder, but I felt the focus on the poem was the person doing the occupying, so to speak, not the building.
    An amazing poem, just the same tho.
    especially that last line, so happy sigh inducing…

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    • Thanks for speaking frankly, Evelyn. You’ve given me something to think about there and I appreciate that. I could perhaps revise the last line to read “We’ve a home, we’ve a home, we’ve a home”. Would that be sufficient to change the emphasis to the outcome of construction, rather than occupying? Would it be an improvement?

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      • no, I really REALLY love that last line…
        I am grateful that you are open to feedback. I am too, altho not many give it!

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  7. I finally figured out the narrative stance this poem takes. It’s like we’re in a helicopter over some weird landscape of history and space and narrative, chopping along, passing haciendas and townhouses and, yes, a traumatized forest, everything getting jumbled as we spin around, unsure where to land. It seems like this is a poem about building a house, about the work of building a house…but I don’t know. Read the title again: it says ‘home’ not ‘house’. And there is this strange little interjected dialog running through the poem—we’ve made a start, we’re making progress, we have a home—that seems almost like subtitles, but, may be more like the voice that finally takes over the helicopter. Start reading here— ‘It is a bastion where we may bolt the door…’ That’s the voice that kept breaking in, right?
    Most people don’t actually build the house they live in. Even when someone speaks of building one, he generally means something like: I hired an architect, who hired a contractor, who hired some subcontractors and they listened to me when I told them what to build. But most of us don’t even to that. What most of us work to do it build a home. True, most of this poem seems to be about the concerns, materials, efforts of the actual house, but…it ends with a home…
    I, um, think it ends. The chopper is still running, though. We’re at home, we’re at home, we’re at home. And while it’s true a house is not a home, you can’t quite blow off the material world. It starts with a site. You do need adobe or brick, or wood siding. Better paint the walls, better put up some decoration, hang a picture or something. Maybe I’ll start a Hummel collection.
    Ground control to John Stevens. You have permission to lift off, sir. Just remember you have to be home by dark. You have another poem to write.

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  8. John, this is one of the busiest times of the year for me, so I am just getting to this. I don’t think this will be the end of the series, though some people seem to think so. If you’re trying to get the sense of humanity through its works it seems like you’ve got a bit more to do, but we’ll see.
    I like Jim’s comment. I found this a really complex poem. Partially it has to do with the voices in the poem. I did not sense just one voice. In a way I read it as a list of different jobs that are needed to build houses:
    hired hands engaged in the deafening clearance…
    a delicate assignment
    for the architect….
    obsessing over ancient rules of mystic alignment…
    a shivering figure pulls the concrete floors
    up like robes
    to the knees, to the waist, to the chest
    of a tower crane….
    a thatcher has lifted and pinned
    reeds to a cottage roof…
    and so on.
    These workers are all building different structures, a hacienda, a skyscraper apartment building, a cottage, but all of this work leads to a housewife at a computer screen putting together the furnishings, the individual human touches that lead to
    a cottage, a townhouse, a penthouse apartment, a shack.
    It is a bastion where we may bolt the door
    against the shadows from the forest;
    a nest, a burrow, where we dress (or not) as we wish
    for no-one observes us;
    a stage on which to parade before guests
    with our chosen props on display;
    a base camp, a launchpad, a jetty.
    With our favourite music playing,
    with photos on the wall,
    we’re at home, we’re at home, we’re at home.
    This is the place where we go to where we have no place else to go, to paraphrase Robert Frost, the place beyond the work that goes into it, beyond the object of house into the transcendence of “we’re at home, we’re at home, we’re at home.” I agree with Evelyn that this is a wonderful line.
    What I finally get out of THE HOMO SAPIENS GUIDE TO MAKING A HOME, and I love the title, is that work is more than labor. It has another dimension that reaches beyond the workers, even the housewife putting furniture in her house that is fit for a queen, the home maker. It is all of together, but also each of us individually, working and working and working and creating a community of individual homes that in the end is the homo sapien home, a place on the ground out of the dark forest, a collective/individual place that defines who we are as a species.
    The interjecting voice, We’ve made a start … We’re making progress … And now we have a home … is us, all of us, homo sapiens, creating our bastion, a nest, a burrow, a stage, a base camp, a launchpad, a jetty, a home, thus creating who we are, who we dream of becoming, who the creature who nests in order to escape the forest dark is.
    This is as strong as the first poem in this series, John, although it takes some rereading and thought before you get it. This is a great series.

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  9. Jim and Thomas, thank you both for your patience in reading this one – obviously it was more convoluted than I had realised or wanted. You are both careful readers – a mark of generosity – and you have certainly figured out what I was trying to do. It’s all about homo sapiens, and the way building a shelter and making it into a home is fundamental – timeless and ubiquitous. I wanted to celebrate that if I could.
    Twice I nearly abandoned the draft, afraid that it was too long and too obscure. I had two other, shorter and simpler, versions. Maybe one of those would have been better. I can’t tell at the moment as I am still too close to this one.
    As you say, Tom, this is not the end of the series. It’s the end of part 1. I can see how Looking at Life Through Work really needs to be approached from several different directions to be balanced and complete – if anyone retains an interest in reading, that is! So section 2, which I’ve got underway, will be rather different.

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    • John, I would not recommend abandoning this draft at all. There is no rule that I know of that requires that poems be simple. Look at Wallace Stevens or even John Donne. They both write wonderful poetry, but you have to work to understand either one. Some of my favorite poets regularly make you read, then reread to get what the poem is saying. This, to me, is a great poem.

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      • Many thanks Tom. I’m going to try suspending disbelief about that!

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  10. Lovely poem John. Although it interweaves through time I still have the sense of the disconnect between builder and homeowner that seems embodied in the subtle difference in the English word/concepts of “house” and “home”. Something I haven’t found in either of my second languages (French or Italian).
    I particularly liked the physicality of the painter slipping and leaving a hand print – it brought to mind both the temple complex I saw in Cozumel where there were hand prints and the palm prints that are sometimes found on old Italian roof tiles – and so made for a pleasantly dense time-slip moment for me as a reader.

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  11. I loved the tempo and energy of this poem. It felt like masculine energy and yet was universal in how it touches. From the poet’s point of view, one of the best visuals for me was this:

    Meanwhile, in a glass box, peering through rain,
    a shivering figure pulls the concrete floors
    up like robes
    to the knees, to the waist, to the chest
    of a tower crane.

    I just loved this. Great work. It’s like watching a really good film.

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  12. I really like this, John–the townhouse contrasted with the adobe hut and the base camp, etc…it is all home. Well done.

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    • Thank you – that’s what I was hoping to convey.

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