David Calcutt




Further extracts from

The Old Man in the House of Bone



There’s someone else in the house of bone, someone

moving in between the silences, slipping through

and around them, stepping over them on tiptoe, trying

not to wake them, someone in some other room

rummaging through the boxes, emptying the cupboards

scattering their contents across the floor

as if searching for something. The old man listens

at the door, afraid to go in, he goes in, there’s no one there

the room’s empty, it’s undisturbed, just as he left it a lifetime ago

but there’s the creak of a floorboard behind him

Who’s there? there’s a shadow at the top of the stairs

Who is it? he feels a hand squeezing his heart

a mouth pressed against his sucking his breath

there are fingers lifting the edges of his face, peeling

them back to look underneath, Who is it? Who’s there?

the old man wants to hide under the bedclothes, he hides

under the bedclothes, Who’s there? Who is it? Who is it?

Who’s there? the house of bone puts its finger to its lips

says nothing, it’s keeping its secret to itself.


Let the house of bone be a leaf

clinging to the last branch of the last tree


The old man is making a model of the house of bone

using anything he can lay his hands on, old odds and ends

scraps of things found down the sides of the chair, under the settee

at the back of the cupboard, bits and pieces of his life

which is made up itself of the bits and pieces

of other people’s lives, those he may have known once

those passed in the street, vaguely familiar, or complete strangers

all their leftovers and scrapings of themselves

he gathers them in a heap in the middle of the room

and sticks them together, using the glue from his own

melted fleshpile, making a perfect miniature

of the house of bone, which he lifts and places on the table

and switches on the lamp, and peers in

through a small window, where a lamp is lit

and an old man’s standing, peering in through a small window

he goes to his own window, he looks out and up in horror

at the face looking out and down at him in horror.


Let the house of bone be a magic mirror

where the world is slowly disappearing


Listen, the house of bone is talking to itself

mumbling something, charms and incantations, maybe

fragments of old fairy tales, and the old man’s trying to overhear

straining to catch the drift of those gummy mutterings

but he can’t make it out, his ears are stuffed with dirty rags

everything comes through muffled, and meanwhile

the house of bone goes on talking, as if speaking words

of a dead language, some ancient epic, maybe

or a shopping list, or the secret of the universe.

The old man knows he’s missing something, he feels

the absence of it, like someone’s just walked out of the room

taking half his brain with them, and he listens harder

he shuts his eyes down on himself, he clamps himself fast

to the roots of his ears, he does all the fine tuning, and at last

he hears it, it comes through loud and clear, the dull drone

of his own voice repeating the same meaningless phrase.


Let the house of bone be a stone on the ridgetop

shaped by the wind to the shape of the wind




David Calcutt is Writer in Residence at Caldmore Community Garden.  And author of Crowboy, Shadow Bringer and The Map of Marvels: Oxford University Press, and Robin Hood: Barefoot Books http://davidcalcutt.com/about/

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