Monk’s House, Rodmell

By Carol Muske-Dukes b. 1945 Carol Muske-Dukes

—for Lynne McMahon

In her bedroom,
she set a convex mirror on a stand,   
so that when the visitor

         looked in
expecting to see the familiar   
line of lip and brow,

         what appeared instead   
was the head up-ended—
the mouth a talking wound—

the eyes, upside down, fluttering,   
like the eyes in the skull

of a calf slung on the blood-hook—
or a baby's lightning blink, dropped low   
in the bone cage about to be born

Walls washed down with the cold pardons of the nurse.   
Gem green paint restored from old scrapings.
Here and there, a trifling, a lightening
beyond the author's original intent,
which was in the drawing room, positively spleenish.
From razor bits of palette, touch-ups: Mrs. Woolf's favorite color.

The Trust ladies place the still-ticking brain
of Leonard's wireless next to the empty brass stalk   
with its single blossom: old black hat
she wore like pharaoh gazing down   
the Nile-green Nile.
             That's her:
the flat drainboard of a face
set so fiercely against the previous   
owner's trompe 1'oeil beard and jug.

The simpleton's request: a picture of her young—
So the trees walk up burning,
the birds speak Latin
for the dull-witted, drenched palette

the glimpse of whirlwind in the pond   
where their handfuls of ash   
drifted down

                and over
the great mown meadow next door   
where the Rodmell August Fair is on.   
My daughter astride a steam engine,   
bored as any child
with the past. Later makes an X   
(her favorite letter) with two sticks

held up to the window
of the great writer's garden study.   
But the mirror standing in the air   
a glass knot tying and retying itself

would repolarize, and she, drawing near,   
reverse herself. A woman's rapt beautiful face   
drawn downward by gravity, sorrow,
lit upward by the flame of age—
could turn over, floating, then submerge, amniotic!

Across the green from the bedroom window   
she saw it: a fin cleaving dark waters—
"and that became The Waves." The ladies sip and look.
             Vanessa, pregnant,
laughing, crosses the garden. Two women   
walk among the hollyhocks with shears.   
The hedge dented by one's fluttering hands.   
Inside her sister's body: fluttering hands.

             Annie's white sweater catches
on the thorns of blackberry canes. I pull her free   
then pick six little ones, busy, like the swarm cells   
of a fetus. Or the enlarging failure in those rooms,   
unchecked growth: death-drawn, claustrophobic.

The wind, up from the South Downs,
blew the two women across the garden,   
their shadows like crossed sticks. Sisters.
One shrugging slightly, a loose mauve shawl.   
Where her sculpted head sits now, a stone wall.

She sat at this table
eating mutton and bread.
He was talking about the socialist initiative   
and she turned away: someone was knocking
at the window. It was the French photographer   
we surprised on our way out,
shooting the forbidden
interior through the dark glass.

Carol Muske-Dukes, “Monk’s House, Rodmell” from Applause. Copyright © 1989 by Carol Muske-Dukes. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

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Poet Carol Muske-Dukes b. 1945

Subjects Painting & Sculpture, Religion, Christianity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Carol  Muske-Dukes


Carol Muske-Dukes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1945. She earned a BA from Creighton University and an MA at San Francisco State University. Her collections of poetry include Camouflage (1975), Applause (1989), An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems (1997), Sparrow (2003), which was a National Book Award finalist, and Twin Cities (2011). In addition to poetry, Muske-Dukes has published two collections of essays, . . .

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SUBJECT Painting & Sculpture, Religion, Christianity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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