Home After Three Months Away
Gone now the baby’s nurse,
a lioness who ruled the roost
and made the Mother cry.
She used to tie
gobbets of porkrind in bowknots of gauze–
three months they hung like soggy toast
on our eight foot magnolia tree,
and helped the English sparrows
weather a Boston winter.
Three months, three months!
Is Richard now himself again?
Dimpled with exaltation,
my daughter holds her levee in the tub.
Our noses rub,
each of us pats a stringy lock of hair–
they tell me nothing’s gone.
Though I am forty-one,
not forty now, the time I put away
was child’s play. After thirteen weeks
my child still dabs her cheeks
to start me shaving. When
we dress her in her sky-blue corduroy,
she changes to a boy,
and floats my shaving brush
and washcloth in the flush. . . .
Dearest I cannot loiter here
in lather like a polar bear.
Recuperating, I neither spin nor toil.
Three stories down below,
a choreman tends our coffin’s length of soil,
and seven horizontal tulips blow.
Just twelve months ago,
these flowers were pedigreed
imported Dutchmen; no no one need
distinguish them from weed.
Bushed by the late spring snow,
they cannot meet
another year’s snowballing enervation.
I keep no rank nor station.
Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small.
Robert Lowell (1917 – 1977)
S1 – While away the nurse has left the household. He remembers the porkrind put out on the magnolia tree for the birds to feed on during the Boston winter. I can identify with this as we did exactly the same thing during my childhood days during a Hampshire winter. In particular I remember blue tits feasting on bacon fat. Those were days when I was sick with whooping cough and measles so looking through the bedroom window to the birds acrobating as they fed was a distraction.
gobbets = drops
S2 – The current bathroom scene between father and young daughter is compared with a previous occasion. The child plays the same games as if his time away was nothing – just child’s play. They touch noses and she dabs her cheeks to initiate his shaving. But for him the time away has been significant magnified by the fact that he is is in fact a year older. But it is not time now to reflect.
levee = embankment
S3 – Perhaps he is dressing as he looks out from an upstairs room. He, like the tulips, has survived an ordeal over winter. In a way he has been in a coffin but he is recovering now. Will he, or will the tulips, survive another snowballing enervation.
enervate = weaken
This is a story of returning home after three months away for physciatric treatment which included shock therapy. The last two lines succinctly describe his emotional adjustment to normal life after being in hospital – ‘being cured‘ – but being ‘stale’ and without ‘rank or station’ at the bottom of the social scale – especially considering this was at a time when mental ilness was not well recarded by general socieity as an illness.
Robert Lowell is a well known ‘confessional’ poet and his words are based on personal experience.