House For Rent

The title of today’s post might be a bit misleading if you are one of those who is following this blog and has just come from reading “Finding Home”.

Today’s post, in spite of its title, is not about rental properties.  At least not literally.

Nor is it a continuation of my list of What I Will Really Miss About Singapore.  (I will return to that list, have no fear.)

It doesn’t even have a logical link to my forthcoming book about the in’s and out’s of international living and raising our children to be global citizens.

It does, however, have to do with raising.

Or razing.

Today’s post is a poem, a poem about the razing of a house, a poem with which I wish to introduce to you  Melissa The Poet.

(And does that ever sound heady.)

I have kept that Melissa over there in the corner all the while I’ve been spreading rather personal prose across your screen. I have kept that Melissa private, sitting in the shadow on her satin pouf, quill and parchment in hand. Sipping mint juleps.  Wearing whatever you imagine a poet wears. All white, maybe? Or an ochre-colored velvet waist coat? Pantaloons? A Tibetan robe?

Or maybe a purple and orange tie-dyed muslin tunic with Mao trousers made of hemp and a large, macramé peace sign hanging around the neck?

I am, in fact, a poet who writes in all sorts of apparel, very often in my bathrobe, or in comfies on airplanes (which should be no surprise, knowing me as you now do), on the backs of napkins in cafés, at 3:47 a.m. on Post-Its kept in my bedside nightstand, in the several neat little notebooks I get as gifts from my husband and other friends. I write literally everywhere there is a flat surface and a source of ink or graphite.

Or lipstick. (Once, yes.)

I need silence to write poetry, since the delicacy of poetic language does not mix well with ambient noise. Even my own breathing gets in the way sometimes, and I realize I’ve been holding my breath for too long as I work through a phrase. (It occurs to me only now that the breath-holding might be behind the hallucinatory effects of my writing.)

When I write poetry, it is often because I have experienced what I call a poetic moment.  Something big or miniscule or multilayered is going on, symbols align, there is a sudden simple clarity, and, well. . . I know it when I am in it.  It stings me then spreads out like the swell of sweet venom, and with that swell, images or clusters of words come all at once. When they come like that, I find I have to grab something quickly to pin them down in this world. Like planting them on the page. Then they start to bloom almost on their own.

(Almost, I said. This is not magic or Chia Pets we are talking about.)

Other times, I write because I am overcome with an emotion, or undone with the beauty of things, or unhinged with outrage.  Or I have a question grating at the underside of my cerebellum, and I hope weaving together a poem will help me see the pattern inside of which an answer might glisten. Like the one white silk thread in a tan linen cloth.

I write in black or blue pen, then I always return hours or days or months later with a red pen and make changes, condense, strike thorugh completely, or encircle the word or turn of phrase that I feel is true and necessary. And start again.  Poetry —to make it vibrate — generally requires a great deal of work.

Often — alright, always — the finished poem surprises me.  It comes up with its own references and connections that I could never have thought of myself. They somehow found me.

And then I send a copy of what I have come up with to a friend or two who know and appreciate poetry, and ask them, “Is it just me, or does this make any sense to you?”

Or, “Too wordy again, right? :-)”

Or, “This I wrote for your sweet mother. It might not be so good, but I mean it from the heart.”

Or, “Does this ring to you?”

Or, “Should I try tossing this into a contest? A poetry journal? The trash can?”

Years ago, when I realized my husband was the man for whom gift-giving was tough, I decided to write him an album of poetry for Christmas.  Then on Christmas Eve, I rolled up each poem which I’d printed on white paper, tied the scroll with a red satin bow, and placed each one between the branches of the tree. I had additional copies made and printed them on thick, sensuous, handmade paper, which I then had bound in a book. I boxed the book and placed it under the tree.  He seems to have loved this personal gift with all my irreplaceable love poems to him. And what’s more, he could not return any of them for another size or color.

The first Christmas after we buried our Parker, that brittle gunmetal winter of 2007, I was burning with poetry —poetry of outrage, of evisceration, of longing, of amazement, of revelation, of gratitude, poetry of The Void — but had no energy to print it out.  Or roll it up. Or put it in a tree.

I had no energy, in fact, to have a tree at all that year. No energy for a single, thumb-sized decoration. I had no energy to face the boxes of baubles and mementos my oldest son had helped me open only twelve months earlier.  I could not for the life of me — or for the death of my son — generate enough energy to face Christmas at all.  As I considered the birth of the Savior, the heralded grandeur, the coming of the Son with glory round about and shepherds sore afraid and young innocent wide-eyed Mary cradling him, her splendid firstborn, I wanted to wail at the top of my lungs, “But you will lose him, Mary! You. Will.  Lose. Him!!

But I had no energy for wailing.

I did have energy, though, to write the following poem. It has already been published in the literary journal, Irreantum, and has been anthologized in Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets, where its peculiar — and necessary — line spacing can be found.

(The exact format cannot be duplicated in a blog, unfortunately. But you can see it if you get your hands on that anthology.)

Since you have made the trek all the way here, I offer you a private reading.


To George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis

(Response to MacDonald’s “living house” allegory, as quoted by Lewis in his Mere Christianity)


Imagine, they suggest.

Imagine yourself as a living house

and God comes in (here comes the allegory),

God comes in to rebuild that house

and to rebuild, He destroys you.

Splits you wide open.

Knocks you down to shape you up.  Blows you away to bring you forth

as mansion, His dwelling.



Imagine: a structure well beyond any

apt literary construct;

Imagine the literal natal invasion,

factual inhabitation, indwelling, the magnifying internment;

this alive thing with its lush, essential interior,

nautilus of distended tension,

gourd-like terrarium, loamy abode,

an incubation for cumulus nimbus,

spirit under my ribs

or cosmos

in the veiled universe of my belly.

What, kindest sirs, might you imagine about a living house

but what woman need never imagine?

Tell: can you conceive of it?

I am the aquarium,

have known (four times) the thrumming oceanic drag,

fulsome tidepool slosh in pelvis;

sweetest ferocious confined Leviathan

stomping inner tympani,

boom-boom-blooming to omega.

Four times nine moons—

(a moon myself, pneumatic,)

holding that glowing orb

or the finest delicacy:  shrimp-on-wafer hors d’oeuvre in salty brine

burrowing in our shared cell.

Most intimate inmate.

I am the accommodation, the occupied real estate

(most real of all states),

a fleshly floorplan, walls torn down for the guest wing thrown up,

placental planting , deluxe plumbing, organic annexing for the increase.

I am that natural habitat for humanity,

an address for razing and raising,

strung taut with that sturdy umbilical pull until (and after)


Now, that’s some moving day:

Nude little lord, prodigious squatter, long since incorporated, moves out

trailing furnishings, clutching soul (whose? my own?)

in bloody wash,

the old self eviscerated, inverted, and that

humanangel image (past imagining)

multiplying  upon itself forever



ever. . .

To be such a sanctuary of conception,

to be asylum for small gods and sovereigns, who swell, crown,

Rise to rule and risk life!

At such risk.  At such risk as one can never. . .


Can one imagine those same living quarters drawn and quartered

when son-brother-cell mate—

(the one who moved within,

then out of you,

your heart still raw in his hold)—

when that oblation grown lustrous, thunderous, launch-ready,

Is ripped        (with               that                 riiiiipping                   sound)


Hard, benevolent wounding, whose frayed fibers hang,

sodden shreds post-rupture ,

and you, true house, are rent

the cloven enclave,

rent in two, or into

two billion splinters:

tattered scraps of love’s sabotage.

Imagine yourself as this living house, haunted in its

boney scaffolds where memory whistles its blue wind

and you are apart-ment

living house split leveled:                                                                                         he there,

you here,

fetal-curled in your own basin;

or a bunker: hunkered in poetry;

or a ranch: speck on the shadowless prairie, barren and boundless;

or a lean-to:  whole halved to make a whole, now wholly halved.

And now. . .

God moves in

though there is no palace for Him here;

only rubble round the crater,

wreckage ringing the hollow.

But He, soft-handed, (the hands, gored)

comes inside (the side, gashed)

to silently,


recreate from laceration Lazarus

and is at home.




© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

20 thoughts on “House For Rent

  1. Pingback: Poetry of the Void: Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s “House for Rent”

    • Yes, readers, if you want direct access to the anthology, here is your link. I am quite happy to see the anthology has found us here. It is a lovely, rich volume, and I’m so proud to be a small part of it.

  2. Beautiful post, Melissa. And beautiful poem. Rereading it this morning, I realized again just how well-wrought it is…

    FYI: I posted the version as published, with some comments, here.

    • Thank you, Tyler. Your willingness to pull in a broad congregation of LDS poets into one copious anthology is a landmark, I think. I am grateful to you and your team for such hard work in making this happen. I enjoy reading your poetry, too, and wish I were in a time zone once in a while where I could participate in a live reading. Maybe that will yet happen. Warm greetings to you, and thanks again.

    • Oh. I felt your poem from head to bruised heel.

      How about a poetry day once a week? Am I greedy? Oh yes, but I think every one of your poems is worth rereading.

      I had a gloriously happy thought today– sometime this fall you can venture down to Northern Italy and check on my lovely boy for me and next spring, i can return the favor and visit your gorgeous girl in the south.

  3. What a lovely expression of birth and of loss.
    Thanks for sharing your poetry as well as your prose.

    • Kathleen, Thank you, friend. I am so glad there are readers like you who will receive either poetry or prose on either birth or loss. It’s so stimulating to find out what speaks to others’ hearts and minds. You are a seasoned and careful reader, so I feel your feedback is especially weighted. Much love, Kathleen.

  4. And Michelle, your comments are always so encouraging. Grazie. I think you’re really on to something, both with the weekly poetry posts and the trips to Milan (mine) and the trip to Rome (yours). I’m on for everything. Brilliant inspiration for both our families! This also means that no matter where we are at the time, our families will make a joint trip to Rome when the LDS temple is dedicated, and our beautiful children can translate for us.

  5. Your poetry just made me cry. Actual tears down my face.

    Sure it helps that I have spent the last three days refurbishing a room in our home.

    Said room is being put in order for the upcoming arrival of baby number four. Baby number four is daughter number one. Who comes next month.

    Plus I know you. And Parker.

    And I hope I know the Master Carpenter.

    When all of these things align so well and resonate in the chaotic, organic and well placed words of your poem, the tears come.

    Thank you for sharing, Melissa.

    • Kjaere vennen min,

      Such loving words from such depth of experience. Jeg takker deg fra hele hjertet mitt. We have so much history, don’t we, your family and mine? As I read your words, a series of 100+ flashbacks rushes at me, all of them pivotal moments in our family’s development as we found our foothold in our beloved Norway. And to think you were one of Parker’s first ever babysitters. You taught him to eat salad, as I recall 🙂 And you taught me the phrase, “Det er godt å vaere Norsk”, there in Karl Johansgate on our first 17e. Mai. And then the space of one breath, almost, and you and Elisabeth are standing at Parker’s funeral, wiping tears. One of the most beautiful images I have of that day.

      Your fourth, a daughter. How happy I am for you and Elisabeth. Always with such love for you, my wonderful, wonderful friend.

  6. I love your descriptions of the writing process–the lipstick, the words being planted and blooming (but it’s not a chia pet, ha), the work of it all.

    And your poem. Somehow your words went beyond words.

    • Melissa Y, my sister.

      Thanks for being here, it feels like a retreat.

      To be even more honest than “lipstick”, I’ve also written with the tip of my mascara wand on my left palm, have used a toothpick to carve a certain word (the voluptuously palpable word, “pellucid”) into a book cover, have been known to rip chunks of phrases out of everything from doctor office magazines to blender instruction manuals. I take notes at movies as well as on hikes, and have been found more than once sitting on the floor with a flashlight in a stupor reading dictionaries of any language on hand. Another helpful practice is opening a book of Wallace Stevens or Robert Pinsky or an author of another tongue, and studying their word choices. I like to roll sounds around in my head, shove them under my tongue, suck on them a while, then see what flavor remains. Is that compulsive? And what do you do to fuel your writing?

      And thank you, Melissa Y, for your thoughtful response to that poem. There’s little restraint in that piece, I know — I had no energy for restraint at that time. But still it is only a fragment of a fragment of what I had to say.

  7. Sweet Melissa, the Poet. I read this poem from a particularly vulnerable point of view, as I too, am in the throes of housing child number four within me. The word choice was brilliant. I could touch your emotion, and it threw me aback. Your willingness to bear your soul here, fills me with inspiration. I am so happy that you decided to write this blog…now you are not so far away. I can know your thoughts in an instant. I can read your words, and I crave them now. I receive a sweet, excitement and anticipatory thrill when there is a new post waiting in my little inbox.

    • Rachael, my friend and sister, you have made me so glad to be writing, and although I’ve been a reluctant convert, so glad to be writing here. I can’t believe you’re housing your fourth. I so admire your courage and wisdom and all you’re building together with William. Please know I am here and that I’m blessed to know you’re here, too. Je t’embrasse a toujours.

  8. Mel, this is one of the most beautiful poems I’ve read. Plummets down to my very center. You are so thorough with your words, images, and in exploring these facets. I’m so glad you felt to post it. I’m printing it off and putting it by my Burnand Running to the Tomb.

    • Elise, It means very much to me that the poem speaks something to you. Because it has spoken to you and to others, I am set to post many more poems —weekly posts of them — since I trust and am taught by your responses.

      Ah, your print of Burnand’s “Les Disciples” (running to the tomb)! I cannot wait to unpack mine and hang it in Geneva. Wherever it hangs becomes a spot of worship for me.

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