Poem introduction

A friend of mine used to work as a housing officer in the Midlands, and one day she told me about a visit to a tenant's house in which every surface of every room was covered with unopened bottles of milk. This seemed to me a rather beautiful image; but of course it wasn't. It masked a much sadder story of a young man who had been living with his parents when they died, and had been unable to cancel the milk. And so the deliveries built up, yellow and stinking - a story which seemed to me a lesson to self about seeing things as they truly are and not romanticising them.

The Sour House

The Sour House

Through the frost-hole of the passenger window
your tenant's house is ringed in winter.
He's turning the snow from the path

that lay in the night. He can far less
handle a spade than you, dipping the lug
as though the shovel itself was unbalanced.

And what you found inside you would not forget:
room on room of bottled milk, gagging
the stairwell, the hallway, bookshelves,

like a stumbled-on ice world, a sweep of winter.
For years he maintained the world his parents left,
taking in milk he never drank. Evenings spent out

in the yard, piecing apart the Ford his father drove -
sill-lines, cogwheels, dippers fanned round him,
working each burr to a touch.

For years I coloured your world in hues
you didn't recognise; never your island,
always your skerry - 'unable to see

the romance of the thing for the thing itself'.
That, airing his house, the rancour
would catch as far as the common;

and what you found in the garage was scrap:
not the showpiece I'd imagined but the pin
pulled out, a car returned to the sum of its parts.

Driving now through the cloughs at dusk
I am struck by the things I can't let go;
that some things weal on the body like braille -

the sight of you just home from the milk-house
matted and choking, your raw nose streaming,
gutting the fridge in two clean strokes -
like a swimmer striking out for land.


from Ground Water (Bloodaxe, 2004), © Matthew Hollis 2004, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books.

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Recordings

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1Wintering

2The Orchard Underwater

3Clearance

4The Fielder

5The Small Rain Down Can Rain

6The River Drivers

7Nymph

8Winter Break

9'not even the leaves'

10Skin Contact

11In you more than you

12Hi-Fidelity

13The Sour House

14Isostasy

15It Rains During the Night

16Sandwriting

17And let us say

18Harwonder

19Blink

20Two Kinds

21Wake

22Here Are Some Words

23Election

24Fake

25Making a Killing

26One Man Went to Mow

27Our Father

28The Wash

27Passing Place

30The Stoneman

31One

Books by Matthew Hollis