Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Other Peoples' Houses

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We’ve been staying in other peoples’ houses in Berkeley for the past four years, often for a couple of months at a time. We’re up to nine different houses at this point.

Clean up the Toronto house and take off, to inhabit the lives of others. I feel a certain giddy freedom as I step into the Berkeley house, noting the lilies climbing up the front yard, the palm tree, and sometimes a deer poking around the garden.
Check out the view of the Golden Gate bridge sketched against the sky and water, and the shimmering white towers of downtown San Francisco.

We have learned to inhabit other peoples’ houses with ease. This chair or that is best for reading. This mattress is harder than the other, but also wider. Remote control for the TV is tricky. The cat needs to be lured into the extra bedroom at night, so that he won’t meow at our door at dawn.

I don’t go around snooping and imagining the lives of the owners. On the contrary, freed of my own home, where every object has a provenance that I know only too well, I feel cut loose from memory. There are stories here, but they aren’t ours. No attachment to this Victorian china and cutlery and heavy floor lamps. We adjust our bodies to fit the furniture without feeling the need to rearrange. I’m sure there is a story behind this thigh-high carving of a great blue heron, but I don’t know what it is. No re-visiting of old moments and situations in my life. No recollections of grandparents and uncles and aunts long gone. I feel no urge to make up tales to fit the objects. Sure, the son’s room holds a pair of boxing mitts and a trophy for volleyball, and that must be a photo of him on the wall, straight black hair and t-shirt from the University. I might glance at his shelf and see books from his childhood – Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh, then let my eye scan the row of Vonnegut novels and textbooks from his undergraduate years. He’s in medical school now, somewhere in the mid-west. But I don’t have to worry if he’s passing Anatomy and eating his vegetables.

Under the bed where we sleep is a tire iron, ready to hand. Not, I suspect, to deal with burglars, but the more likely eventuality of getting trapped during an earthquake. Useful for jimmying up ceiling debris and freeing oneself.

I know when we return to our house in Toronto I’ll feel a mix of pleasure and a certain grip of tension. Step back into the stories of our lives, the people and history, the door that needs fixing, all of it a constant reminder of who we are.


Thanks, Ann . . . A mirror is, indeed, a good place this poem . . . just about any poem for that matter. And yes, I'm the author.

This is a wonderful poem- but who wrote it? That last bit I'll pin over the mirror: This measure of thinking thought/through becomes/but an apparition of it self, the mystery/of needing to know what is.

Thanks for pinning up in Comments.

Here you go, Ann . . . a poem in honour of a house and its spirits.

Edward Carson


Some are content to roam the house
like ribbons of light sifting

the air, transforming rooms. Some are
content to remain unknown

and hidden, less than they were, more
than they could be. So we

might better know their hearts, taking on
the look of spirits too long

contained, their bodies wear the clarity
of white on white. Though

unsettling in their presence, there is
little here to surprise,

you say, certain in the wisdom of Plato’s
ghost. Knowing what is

is a language we cannot speak,
a troublesome suspicion of belief

without substance or solution. What then
might we say is ours

to truly know? An idea of you alone,
or moonlight crossing the room?

This measure of thinking thought
through becomes

but an apparition of its self, the mystery
of needing to know what is.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Ann Ireland

Ann Ireland is the author of A Certain Mr. Takahashi, The Instructor and Exile. Her most recent novel is The Blue Guitar. She lives in Toronto.

Go to Ann Ireland’s Author Page