It isn’t virtue that makes him
wash the dishes piled
high by others round the pantry sink;

God knows, he’d rather climb
toward some peak in the Coastal Range,
muscles hardening against granite and the fear

of falling, his protection failing,
the utter gravity
of the chasm he dreams he must risk

snapping the fickle ropes that tethered
him unexpectedly to this world.
Instead, through a small

pane of glass he scavenged,
fitted during a free
moment into the chained front door,

he eyes the mountains crystallizing
through mist shining across the inlet,
the dish rag his left hand clenches

drooling soapily on the mat.
Crooked in his arm, his colicky infant squints,
whimpers, and pulls his whiskers,

her discomfort drawing him back down the passage
until the half light
of a midwinter kitchen appears

to soothe her;
the rice porridge whose secret he’s perfected
belches in its happy pan.

The hours calve little transformation;
the days seem to eddy past.
Who knows what form of man will one day slip

through the hands determining this household
a coiled rope
hanging in his anxious grasp?

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Housebound”?

Written in the 1984, “Housebound” is a portrait of a stay-at-home father I knew. We shared a house in Vancouver, along with the baby’s mother and another friend. The father, who was a rockclimber, became increasingly restless in his fatherly, stay-at-home duties and longed for the kind of freedom that only climbing could give him. Two worlds are evoked in the poem, one inside the house and one outside it. My protagonist longs to remake himself into someone who will risk transiting from the former to the latter, paralleling the journey a baby must take when it is ready to be reborn, a journey his own daughter undertook less than a year before. The climbing rope is his umbilical cord, one that, unlike the one that was cut when he was born, need not be severed. He needs it to avoid any possible deadly fall. Unlike everyting else in his life, it is something he can control himself.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Housebound”?

This is a tightly structured, free-verse poem composed of three-line stanzas. The sentences are funnelled through these stanzas, with each line and stanza break crucial to the creation of dramatic tension and of meaning itself.

This poem “Housebound” originally appeared in Popular Culture. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 108 (Spring 1986): 15.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.