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  • Vahni Capildeo, poet-in-residence

Soundscapes and Stonescapes of Home

There is a soundscape to this lockdown diary. It is a soundscape of sounds that are continuing and sounds that recently ceased. Four days ago, at dawn, there was a freak storm. It brought estranging winds. The known pattern, here in Trinidad, is for the North-East trade winds to blow, hollow and baritonal. This time, as during last year’s Rainy Season, I could hear a new voice countering the familiar tones. Another wind swept over the house. This one came from the west. The two met and clashed, like waves in a bay of bad currents, making mayhem over the roof. We had the roof strengthened last year when leaks sprang in unaccustomed places. This time, a friend’s roof curled back on itself like a river creature cooked on a hot slate. He Facebooked the water pouring through a traditional ceiling’s darkening wood.

The wrongness of that meeting of winds persists after dying down. Weather and climate are not the same, but the flurries and bulges, convergences, drifts and drives, of hot and cold flows in the ocean and air are noticeably changed. The unheard roar of the trees being uprooted nearby persists, too, in the unsettled air.

Then there is, or was, the gunfire. Normally, gunfire means that the police are practising in their barracks. Other normal gunfire comes from neighbours having a fight or a celebration. Still more normal gunfire arises occasionally without figuring on the news; small battles, no ‘incident’. Today the gunfire was, or is, of another, more intentional, and spreading kind. It has died down, but who knows what will happen in the night? The state’s defence forces have been defending the city from protestors who are crying out against police killings. Allegedly, these may be paid protestors destabilizing this oil-producing state. They counter-claim that they have been paid only in grief.

Machinery brings a mad, haute-bourgeois twist to the soundscape. During the unrest, when people were meant to go home or stay in a safe place, the neighbours did not offer refuge to their gardeners, nor did they let them go. Lawn mowers and leaf blowers continue their kind of music. Helicopters make another. Birds contribute the third; the regular birds, pitching their calls by the hours of the day, mark time, but interrupt themselves with alarm calls, alarmed by who knows which element of all the above.

This soundscape will have ceased or changed by the time this diary is published. It will live again only in your head. I have transferred ‘home’ from me to you. “Where is home for you?” is a question that people voice with concern, when they meet someone who seems too happy to wander. “What is home?” is a better question. If homesickness so sharp that it draws tears is any indication, then my home is a place where I have never lived.

A few weeks into lockdown, I was assailed repeatedly by a jumble of ever-changing images, and so longed to step into them that I shut myself in my room and wept. Magnolia trees raised candelabras of pink blossom and, as if through two decades of sleeplessness, I was meeting friends under their branches; or by a bulk of mutually supportive, much-added-to stone; or in grey rain. We were having fun, but we were in situations: unpublished and published; choosing gifts of plushie toys and local honey; recently assaulted; carol singing; about to be divorced; making a man and his black cat uneasy; collecting children; being childless; looking through telescopes at peregrine falcons; finding painted pebbles left as clues.

The continuity of site gave us the sense of situatedness, and the power to explore and forget our situations. At some point, one of us would be alone, and look up to find a stone lady with lines of thought on her face and a stone book in her hands: Julian of Norwich, tall guardian of a tall door. Someone’s neck would be hurting; on a ceiling, the golden face of a man would have been sprouting leaves for centuries. There were many approaches by which to converge on this site. I often took the one via the river, under the shadow of a yew tree.

It seems that my home is Norwich Cathedral, and that I am about to spend my last coins lighting a candle in a shrine not quite my own. Except there is an ocean between us, and the soundscape is large with rain and bullets, not with rain and bells, and the points of the candles in the faraway holder seem to be burning inside my body; and it is as if I am sea-sick, neither dreaming of nor planning for return, but pitched between here and there in a shuttling that has no point of origin and none of rest.

Perhaps ‘home’ is not a place of dwelling, but a place of recurrence. ‘Home’ is a shape that promises to hold the memories deposited in it and that is faithful to its promise. When visited, it reminds you how you became ‘yourself’ and who you need to be, for it reflects back spectral versions of you, walking still-traceable paths. Imagine being like Peter Pan and losing your shadow. Imagine losing your shadow not once, but many times over; and the Cathedral being the enchanting friend who will gather up the cast-off, lost, or hurt shapes of all the ages and occasions that have gone missing from your self, in order to stitch them back onto you, lightly and precisely and featherily, till you become less unsure about saying “This is who I am. This is where I am going.”

As I write this diary, I feel a complex sense of betrayal. My imagination, nerves, and muscles conspired to stopper my attention, and the actual soundscape around me lost out; it was shut out. My eyes and ears ache as they unstopper themselves; my face hurts. The intimate awareness of unrest floods back in. If the Cathedral is the home that promises perfection, the family house is the home for the perfection of compromise. If it is possible to belong to a household so torn up that it offers little continuity beyond a sense of unbelonging, equally it is possible to belong to a home that will never belong to you.

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