The Storm House

The Storm House

by Tim Liardet


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847770677
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Tim Liardet is a poetry professor at Bath Spa University and the author of the poetry collections Competing with the Piano Tuner, which was longlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, and To the God of Rain.

Read an Excerpt

The Storm House

By Tim Liardet

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Tim Liardet
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-841-3


    Like Slant Rain

    Trouble is with inventing a language, brother,
    when the only other person in the world who speaks it dies
    you're left speaking to no one. This mouthful of words,

    of fat verbs and vowels and cases and morphemes
    that stammer from the lexicon under the tongue
    is desperate to be used and anxious to be heard

    and competes against itself for the room to speak –
    It crowds out my mouth with the need to keep alive
    every O in our intonation before it ends up

    on the dump with the clicks of Hittite and Kulinic;
    our words seem stranded and strangely marooned
    now there's no one to read the other side of them.

    No one to read them the wrong way round and still
    have them make sense, say they are the wrong way round.
    No one to say the old humanist's slanting hand

    would not have wanted a mirror if he was the other side
    but it's more necessary now, and I read in it:
    lately, I confess, I've tried scrawling to myself in the glass

    but, like any mirror-writing, it's slant rain. And like slant rain
    it goes on falling and tearing, falling and tearing.
    Like slant rain it quickens suddenly and slows down

    and is heedless of its own expenditure.
    Like slant rain it goes on falling and tearing, falling and tearing
    and the glass does not know what it sees.

    Calling Ugolino

    Through what might be
    the earpiece
    or some grainier,
    more primitive
    instrument, brother,
    or perhaps
    the miracle
    of the auditory
    nerve, summoning
    some signal,
    a ruched pinhead
    of decibels,
    I imagined I might
    be able
    to hear your voice –
    it would be faint
    and strange,
    as it does now
    to another age,
    the pauses
    between it
    prolonged by the whelm
    of distance,
    the static of water:
    instead, the
    soft voicemail
    kicks in to say
    you are
    to talk.
    I had something
    to say, I had
    to say, I say
    to the tape-hiss.

    The Water-halt

    The sshsshssh, the chambery smell of the dark
    were borne from room to room by the Chapel official
    in sniffs, her sideways glances, even in the look
    with which she turned out of the candle's blue-ringed circle

    with over-earnest tact: the crucifix above your toes
    offered proportion to sacrifice – its striped dazzling image
    waylaying the retina among the shadows
    when I confronted your final, fuck-it-all visage:

    you might have sat up, brother, but couldn't slip
    the shackle of muscles which almost secured
    a smile, thumbed and moulded to reshape
    the malleable substance – your grim composure.

    And for the more, there was only less;
    and for your brow a freezing, terrible kiss.

    The Constables Call

    Pity the police officers whose task it is to tell
    the truth of the mysterious dying. They are pale
    and gamine, they speak in unison like twins and might

    be either men or women. One writes in invisible ink.
    Mystery prospers, they say, when the eyes and the mouth
    rest. The deceased's toenails had not been cut for months,

    so long, they seem to grow longer now his body shrinks.
    They're living evidence, say the officers, shoots of nail;
    they arc in slow motion like the couch grass gripping

    a plough that's blunted and abandoned. Is this a human foot
    or some unusual specimen sprouting brambles,
    sprouting sickles, until they hook right round

    and scratch at their own footsole? This is what the truth
    does, they say, it tickles itself to laughter at
    our attempts to uncover it. His toenails force back

    their cuticles like buds and might've hooked him bodily
    back into the world just long enough to tell us
    what happened in those final hours. The toenails are like the case,

    they say, dark and horny, growing beyond our reach:
    they grow and they grow, they flourish like clues
    and curl back into accusation. Was he murdered at a height,

    who could not stoop to tend them for himself?
    So far below, wild and tapering, the toenails might
    be protesting against the body's extreme inertness,

    say the officers, they might be forming parabolas
    of suggestion and still-growing questions or trying
    to tell us the culprit's identity, like Nosferatu's
    fingernails scratching a name on the air.


    I play back at night the CD wiped by your death
    because I want to gather in the snatches of schtumm

    going round in my head all day, without making a sound:
    I play it, I labour on the edge of remembering

    the cellist miming the fugue – her bow sawing schtumm.
    I play it again when the alternative's only

    a silence plunging deeper through its calibrations.
    Every time the disk spins, without sound, I feel

    the fugue is enacted phrase by phrase, on mute
    despite the laser's reading of everything there,

    on mute so the noise of it is wholly turned down
    though the signal's burnt deep, but registers nothing.

    The disk plays and is schtumm – it plays and plays
    or cannot quite stop itself from being played

    and it when it spins from sound-pulse to sound-pulse
    is exercised as it must be, trying perhaps to be rid

    of the requirement ever to be played again –
    I strain to read the label which spells out

    in a childlike hand: Schtumm for Cello. And because
    for all the life of me I cannot quite identify

    the notes I feel in my fingertips, but cannot hear, I whisper:
    play it again, play it again, play it again.

    The Gorse Fires

    I very gently drew out your brother's tongue
    and placed it back again, said the coroner,
    but began to feel it might have done it by itself.

    Through the stethoscope, through the sternum,
    he said, I could hear all the way to the sea bottom.
    The eye with a torch shone into it – uninhabited.

    What did he die of? That's the question I'm very glad
    you've asked, he said. Ah, bodies – so many! Each one
    more wiped, more stony-faced than the last,

    pulled out in the drawer with a label tied to its toe.
    Your brother might've died from drowning,
    stroke, septicaemia, a shot from a range of half a mile

    or, to put it another way, he said, the common cold.
    The liver's bloated gland sifting its silts of salt
    like moraines, like pond scum. Or spots on a tonsil.

    The puckered arc of rips, he said, ousting the flesh
    of his back like a crescent of bitemarks
    that might have been a hoeing of six-inch nails

    but, you must understand, they're merely braille.
    Some bodies, he said, catch hold of the lies of the dead
    and must be slid, unkissed, back into the drawer

    while the outer world bursts with lively evidence.
    The gorse fires blaze across the moor and kissing is
    in season. But look at his mouth when a square of mirror's

    held over it – nothing. It reminds me of a sign saying privé
    at the gates of consciousness where no one had
    trespassed for many years. Look to the living, he said. They should
    be kissed and kiss often and live to be a hundred.

    Versions of a Miserabilist

    One thought, from over the river: the mosquitoes
    lost the smell of blood in me half way across.

    Old Eden verity – I am no more to blame for my death
    than I was for the sleazy rendezvous of my birth.

    God alters selfish men – now that they have no face,
    he has them regard the face, he teaches them how

    they should have lived in a universe whose every centre is
    a little pot of self-regard, a little like yours.

    * * *

    This is the end of money, though we have black fingers;
    this the seedy afterlife of things. Everything poised,

    as if the next step were already on stand-by:
    like a star in the cavity the pilot light keeps

    the steady job of incremental burning.
    The meter wheel spins round and round towards

    the astronomical bill that will never be paid.
    These are your concerns. The fridge, my symbol,

    persists in its puddle and on-off fugue. Just when
    you think it is finally dead, it rambles to life.

    The Jigging Season

    Craneflies hold up
    a level sky
    of stagnant water
    on a hair:
    with ungainly
    a convulsed,
    electrocuted mess
    of otherwise
    lifeless limbs –
    a fit of limbs
    too slight
    for the enormity
    of life-fizz
    inside it.
    See how nothing
    in their cells
    has yet worked out
    what glass is,
    how they thrash
    a paralysed
    cortège of legs
    against the glass
    as if it were
    the last obstacle
    between them
    and the next world.
    As if glass
    were a griddle
    of six thousand
    making them jig;
    and from here
    they could already
    smell the first frost.

    The Law of Primogeniture

    Whatever the planets were doing that second
    they stopped, then resumed. The night
    of the drop – the night of the touchdown

    among the people he had chosen.
    Jupiter and the full moon conjunct
    opposing Mars. The void preparing

    to match his likeness against the world's.
    Vertigo for the very longest descent
    of all, and motion sickness, jet-lag

    and homesickness drawn down into one
    mix towards the imminent focus of
    a yell. The great scarlet hollyhock opened

    and opened until it could open no more,
    until the pressure ripped it at the rim
    and my brother came into the world head first

    on a deluge of his own making,
    swinging limp bloody fists as if he was inconsolable –
    Mother, son, swim forever in that blood.

    * * *

    Later by six hours, though, crouched thoughtfully
    over the day's eighteenth stooping fag-ash
    which is held up by a sort of freakish gravity,

    my father is burning and poking the afterbirth
    that crackles in the boiler like fat:
    through the scorched glass he watches it burn yellow.

    Though he shakes out the thought almost before
    it skids beneath his thinning hair, he imagines
    the afterbirth might be the sack

    from which Rasputin emerged undrowned,
    stones tied to his ankles and wrists.
    So close, he squints into the flames' hysteria:

    and he thinks his way back through
    fags eleven, ten and nine, to where
    he is running alongside the midwife's bicycle;

    and he thinks his way further back
    into the moment of conception, and imagines it
    a single burning point of light;

    he thinks his way back to the night he met her,
    so overcooked with gesture – on the tilted floor –
    so faux with shallow flirtation;

    and he thinks his way much further back
    through ten, through a dozen years
    with giant stumbling, backward strides –

    he stumbles back, muttering I must, I must
    find a way back in time, in time –
    out of the way you frowsty armchair –

    you lamp, you flying – fucking – heirloom.
    He stumbles backwards, like a man
    doing backstroke with a chair in each hand,

    a stool kicked out of the way by his right foot,
    a pot kicked out of the way by his left.
    He stumbles backwards, and just in time

    (... against the timer's whirring) swings
    one baggy trouser-leg over the other
    and reassembles in the chair, from pieces, as the flash –

    catching the lush valley of his parting
    and good looks exploding in light –
    goes off: Me, he whispers, Me.

    On Pett Level Beach

    Whether they look to east or west or straight ahead
    with half-shut eyes, however stiffly caught,
    they fall into place around her. She wears her white-rimmed shades, a two-piece,

    but he's in trunks and overcoat and leans away and towards her,
    smoking, with wild hair, under a laden post-war sky
    which is streaked with light and goes on for miles.

    One son in shorts with straps and bare shoulders, waiting
    for the wind-mics to amplify her next command;
    the younger son with spade, dragging seaweed around his ankles

    into the foreground, about to walk out of the picture.
    When Mother took the first son for her own, Father took the other
    as if by doing so they enlarged the print of their terms:

    as if, by doing so, he might chuck a single
    futile weight against the tipping point.
    All this in monochrome – vanishing from the plate;

    all this to show you a family – so –
    which huddles there, beside deckchairs which blow themselves pregnant;

    as the sea smashes against the breakwater
    and the breakwater smashes against the sea.

    Goose Flesh

    She climbed with the weeping boy
    into the sleeves and legs of his clothes. He crouched

    and acquiesced, and what he thought was his hand
    reaching to pat the soft part of his abdomen

    was in fact hers – her foot was in his shoe – so it was hard
    to fathom if those scarlet toenails belonged to him

    or her, and which body musk seeped out
    from which armpit, which thought originated first

    in his head or her encompassing head behind,
    so little the lapse, the spaces, between them.

    When he dressed himself, it was her hands that reached
    around to each bone button, her fingers which clipped

    the absurd butterfly to his collar. When she climbed out
    and left a chilly shape where she had been

    he felt his spine was corrugated and exposed,
    every follicle of him, every single blond hair

    always listening for her approach,
    listening in all directions, from every hair.

    When she climbed back, he could no longer feel
    the coarse stitching in the seams of his shirt

    nor any sensation in his feet at all
    and no sensation in his hands or in his lips.

    Where her warm belly brushed against his sacrum
    he smelt of her cologne, and it was only

    when he tried to shift his shoulders sideways
    and fidget his body into a space

    that her long arms folded across him from behind
    and drew him back towards her, at which stage

    they seemed to wrestle together in a canal sack,
    one trying to keep the other where he was

    by pulling the collar tighter against his neck,
    one trying to escape from his shirt.


    Into the arms of death, she says, into the arms
    of another woman – who speaks the sort of patois

    which alone could bind him to a pelt of bones,
    whose pomp is laughable, her favours anyone's,

    whose glad rags tend towards the sluttish
    and whose half-moon grin, whose long enfolding fingers

    combined one night to snatch away her eldest son.
    Though her own legs by now can hardly carry her

    to the otherwise bare outcrop of her eightieth year
    she knows she has to match the slapper in her rags

    and wants to buy new clothes, new fancy shoes
    into which she might squeeze her water-swollen feet;

    new rouge, new jewellery – flame orange silks;
    new ear-rings – a crush of gleams however ersatz,

    her mascara a sort of drenched French blue.
    Voilà! She has begun an affair with the mirrors

    by concentrating on that tiny square of face
    that she dreams could still be made beautiful,

    framed with hackles of hair, a sort of pout, a sort
    of staging of mouth which forgets the fallow patch

    of hair which even two mirrors, one held in air
    and hand, one in front, cannot quite conspire to reflect –

    as she applies a line of lipstick to her mouth,
    leans in closer, plumps up the hackles. Ready.

    The Ghost Train

    Craneflies! she says. They fizz in and out of her face
    and brush her forehead – the feelers. They're crackle-clumsy,

    crashing, they trail their paralysed legs across the black hole
    of her mouth, in sleep. They thump and sizzle inside

    the mind's lampshade, she says – fortress mother –
    they advance in a moon-halo of mints and halitosis.

    Her hair so wild, so white, she goes among the gulpers
    of a ward of daylight, frightening them with her tone.

    Old! Old! she says. Everything old! Old as insects.
    See how they fuss, she says, and won't be swatted away,

    fizz, come too close. Or else, at other times, she says,
    they're just a cotton bud fidgeting loudly in her ear;

    some twitching thing fished itchily up her nostril;
    some irritant in her tear duct, some frenetic thought

    or jig of frenetic thoughts prancing over her;
    the undercarriage of the nurse's flannel flying over –

    this ceaseless intrusive business in her face.
    Otherness! It bangs and struggles blindly against the glass

    of a solitude that liked itself. It stumbles and blunders
    and lurches all around her, it hums and shivers

    as if it smells something it likes, it's in her bedclothes,
    her smalls. Lord, bring us the extremity of the first

    frost, she says. But look how easily legs thin as fuse wire
    come away in her old, grief-stricken fingers.


Excerpted from The Storm House by Tim Liardet. Copyright © 2011 Tim Liardet. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Like Slant Rain,
Calling Ugolino,
The Water-halt,
The Constables Call,
The Gorse Fires,
Versions of a Miserabilist,
The Jigging Season,
The Law of Primogeniture,
On Pett Level Beach,
Goose Flesh,
The Ghost Train,
The Revenant,
Fantasia on the Snarl,
The Beating,
'I thought it was a fucking earthquake,',
The Interlude,
Bucko in Love,
Exit, Pursued by a Wolf,
The Waterlily Garden,
Self-portrait as Flypaper,
Self-portrait with Patio Flames,
Sky Egg,
Deleted Scene (The Frog),
The Brothers Grimm,
A Portrait of my Grandfather in Drag,
The Peacemaking,
The Vintage,
Deleted Scene (The Jug),
The Dark Age,
'... Lay Thee Down',
The Storm House,
About the Author,
Also by Tim Liardet,

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