Terrains Of The Heart And Other Essays On Home

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In its day, this was a small and unassuming house on a large Bowral block. At what is now the back door, there’s a bell that doesn’t ring, and inside, two hanging tubular bells of unequal length, which, if you flick your finger across them, make the archetypal two-tone chime of doorbells all across the western world.

Now it’s a small and unassuming Bowral house on a small Bowral block. Inside the box from which the bells hang is a sheet of foxed paper, on which in deco typescript are the instructions for installing the ‘electric door chimes’. The house next door stands only two metres away, and a hedge of those genetically modified firs they favour down here disguises a paling fence between the houses.

For four years, I have turned up where they school and play sport, and I have kept houses for my children elsewhere.

Fine places: Balmain, Newcastle, Picton, Kirribilli, and Picton a second time.

So that, on another night in a century or two, when someone else stands here, or when an owl flies or a dog wakes, the memory of me will greet them, infinitesimal, in the odour, this olfactory music, of the night.

When I lived here the first time, it struck me each time I stepped out of the car that, having driven home from teaching or some poetry gig, that even though I’d travelled barely a hundred kilometres from Sydney, I was in another place, almost another time, entirely than the sandstone realms the city stands on, down along that shore. Last month I moved back to live where my children live.

Sometime in the 1990s the owner of my place clearly subdivided and made of the back door, which faces the pines on Kangaloon, the front.

And I feel like the house, turned around in mid-life, asked to face what I’d had my back to all these years.7.

In the scent of night, all that a place is and all it means, all that it has been and may yet be, the ‘marvelous and the murderous,’ as Seamus Heaney put it, seems to sing itself and want one in the song: all the Bowrals, the lives that ran and ended here; the marriages that swam and sank here; the rocks beneath the rocks and the soils on top; the massacres, the dispossession, that cleared the way for this self-satisfied and pleasing suburb among hills, which I now inhabit.

The air smells of geology and the eros of erosion; it smells of the pain all change, all becoming, costs; it smells of garden plant and winter grass, and it’s rank with disenfranchisement and entitlement, and it’s bittersweet with the powerlessness and delight of children.

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