David Calcutt

The Old Man in the House of Bone

 

He sits in his house in the dark wood

in the house of bone in the dark, tangled wood

at the wood’s centre where no paths lead

where all the paths have been erased or grown over

so that no one knows the way to the house of bone

they can’t get in, and he can’t get out

because the way is lost, it never existed

and the forgotten birds scutter among leaves of silence

and the roots of silence have burrowed down into his brain

have pushed their long fingers into his blood

are picking at his entrails, sorting through his belongings

emptying him out like a cardboard box

a ghost in its grave, a last gasp

pinning him down to the house of bone

crumbling under its weight of silences.

 

*

Let the house of bone be a church

where you kneel and pray to nothing

 

*

In the house of bone, numbers are gathering

in the cobwebs behind the old man’s eyes

a mass of them, a black clutch, scuttling in the attic corners

hanging by threads which they unravel out of themselves

and he hears the scratch and whisper of their feet

like a Morse signal from somewhere far off

like static from some long-ago burnt-out radio

that he can’t quite interpret

and when they crawl out from his finger-ends

to tap a code on the armchair, they become

strings of numbers tying themselves into a knot

they hang themselves from the curtains

they flutter around the lampshade

and he can’t count them, he can’t add them up

they dissolve into dust, into the moon’s zero light

leaving only the blank on the face of the house of bone.

 

*

 

Let the house of bone be a shoe

lying in the middle of a rain-soaked field

 

*

No one comes calling at the house of bone

there are no foot-shuffles on the front step

no yoo-hoos through the letterbox

or if they do come calling they come as shades

escaped from hell through the trapdoor in the cellar

wrinklings of light and smoky silences

that twist their way in under the door

to float like mote-dust, like flies around the fruit-bowl

and the old man thinks he might just recognise a face

or the echo of a gesture, or the shape of a voice

but even as he reaches out to touch it it vanishes

and he has only his own feet to look at

his glasses case, his empty cup, his own hands

lying crumpled anyhow on the table, like unopened letters

each one labelled with the wrong address.

 

*

Let the house of bone be a needle

slowly threading its way through to the heart

 

*

 

David Calcutt is author of Crowboy, Shadow Bringer and The Map of Marvels: Oxford University Press  and Robin Hood: Barefoot Books.  Find out more here: http://davidcalcutt.com/about/

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