‘Cleaning the Big House’ – a poem by Martyn Crucefix

    Photo by Anna Kukhareva on Unsplash 

 
 
 
 

    Cleaning the Big House

 

Norfolk, England, 2030

 

It was the English woman Veronica Berridge
who let the place go —
her spirit vanishing maybe eight years back
I imagine into one of these portraits
in the attic room perhaps this one — which I like —
composed for the most part of bare canvas

her features seeming to surface as I stare
from a natural ground from beneath
the halo of the nocturne of her hair
though she’d more years on her than this
plus a deal more trouble over which to draw
an English veil — it can hardly resemble her

yet this broad face the curve of her red lips
the hooded side-glancing eyes urge me on
in the absence of other information —
I overheard she was a plants-woman
a devoted mother and often
at this high west-facing window she’d stand

to view the large kidney-shaped garden pond
its tall flags inclined in the slightest breeze
her box-hedge borders her rose-beds
the rudbeckia and the frothing bridal lace
the twisted apple tree leaning into the cherry
and with each Spring those two queens

would break out into riotous blossoming
as each sequential child foundered and died
she took to walking — I’ve come to believe —
these paths or here at this clumsy portrait
as if before a mirror though in fact I see her
differently — more palely consumptive —

and perhaps the truth is the house let her go
(a strange unwarranted act of compassion)
and who thinks now of Veronica Berridge
sees only an ageing childless English widow
and no-one but me ever comes to stand
by this ruby-lipped portrait on which I gaze
imagining children under the flowering trees

 
 

Martyn Crucefix

About Martyn Crucefix

Martyn Crucefix’s recent publications include Cargo of Limbs (Hercules Editions, 2019). These Numbered Days, translations of the poems of Peter Huchel (Shearsman, 2019) won the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize, 2020. A Rilke Selected will be published by Pushkin Press in 2023 and a translation of Lutz Seiler's essays, Sundays I Thought of God, will be published by And Other Stories. Currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at The British Library, he blogs on poetry, translation and teaching at www.martyncrucefix.com.