Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Secret Life of the Closet

When I was nine years old, my parents moved us to a place out in the country, to a house made of rock on acres of woodland. It was a private park in the oak-shaded hills, surrounded by walnut groves and almond orchards (that’s an almond tree blooming on my header).

The place was called Resthaven. In the summers, we filled the enormous blue concrete pool and stocked the snack bar, and people came in droves for pool parties and picnics. In the autumn, we drained the pool and harvested almonds and walnuts. In the winters, rain brought the wild grasses that turned everything green, and we explored the woods, discovering a treehouse in a big old live oak that became ours. I named my blog after that treehouse. In spring, we ran through blooming orchards and made forts in tall wild oats.

Being the only girl, my room was a tiny one off the kitchen that had a matching tiny closet lined with unfinished sheetrock. On its back wall, I drew the control panel of a spaceship complete with steering wheel and there I would sit cross-legged, taking many voyages.

To ride TFE’s Poetry Bus this week, our driver NanU, the Science Girl Traveler, told us to change our usual writing environment. Something reminded me about that closet, so I took my pad and pen into my current closet and wrote this:

The Secret Life of the Closet

In the mind of the closet, memories are clothes
with soft edges, hung neatly in rows,
soundproofing the space. With the door closed
shouts don’t penetrate the padded stillness
of its thoughts. The closet can be a closet
with two hands tied behind its back, so it dozes
until the girl comes in.

It wakes with the snick of the opening door
and waits for the click of the closing door
before it greets the little elfin girl
with a shiver of its clothes. In the dark
she doesn’t notice. She squats on the floor
and sniffles for a time while the closet
leans against her like an old dog.

When the girl flicks on her flashlight
the closet rejoices with a subsonic hum.
When she parts the clothes and wades
on her knees through the jumble on the floor,
it’s waiting for her in the far corner,
a portal of light within a crude pencil sketch
on the wall. Every scribbled knob and gauge
glows on the dashboard of the craft. She takes
the wheel and soars away.

When someone looks in later, the jumble
on the floor in the far corner lies undisturbed
and the dark closet smiles.


Brian Miller said...

smiles. love this chris...can be a closet with two hands tied behind its back...and the smile at the pile in the corner going unnoticed...wish T did not notice the piles in the corner of

Marion said...

You're amazing, you know that? I just came from your last post, where I was in awe, thinking you could not top it. But here is something different again and I am at once inspired and somehow, happy.

I spent my childhood in my imagination; I totally understand this.

Andrew said...

There was a big rock in the woods behind our house that was a perfect big truck, bulldozer or grader. I would take a big pot lid from the kitchen to use for a steering wheel and drive that big old rock for hours on end.

Karen said...

Wonderful work, Chris, taking us on a trip back in time with you. Thank goodness for safe havens and the imagination to pilot us out of danger.

The Bug said...

I love this poem! What amazes me is that you would draw spaceship controls. That would never have entered my mind at all when I was a child. But then again, I was always reading a book - what need did I have for my OWN imagination?

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

How do I forget so easily the enchanted realms in which I once lived?

So great this post!

Thanks Chris! What a sweet reminder!

I think I'll hop under my desk and draw a space ship panel...and sit down for a ride.

the walking man said...

You had a much different way to leave the planet than I did Chris.

Peter Goulding said...

Lovely poem, Chris and very evocative. I'm trying to picture a closet. Is it like our 'hot press'?

Kat Mortensen said...

The notion of the closet leaning like an old dog is just, what can I say? WOW! I loved that image.

As everyone else has recognized, Chris, you are a singular talent and this is an incredible piece.

(Sorry I've been away, but life is crazy right now and I've only managed to pop in on a few of my favourites lately. I'm trying to get back in synch with the bus.)


P.S. I've got my Poetry Bus mag and am so pleased to have one of your poems in my possession.

Syd said...

My imagination is fueled by this post. What a memory about how I used to crawl into my closet and look at my secret things that I kept in an old suitcase.

NanU said...

Oh, that's excellent!
I loved getting into the closet when I was still small enough to do so in the limited space available there. Loved that close dark, the softness overhead, the secretness of it all.

Peter Goulding said...

Hi Chris, thanks for the closet explanation! I think I've seen it on a Heineken ad. I suppose our houses are smaller. We have wardrobes in the bedrooms, but you wouldn't walk into them. And the hot press, is the little room with the boiler in that you can stack clothes after they're washed and dried. You could just about squash in there, provided you moved the hoover and the toilet rolls!

Shadow said...

your title snagged me, your poem was a joy to read!

e said...

I remember crawling in the closet at my grandparents where I discovered whole sets of Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew original editions and read each for the treasure it was...

Lovely post, Chris!

Anonymous said...

If not for the imagination, surely most of us would have gone mad. Great post. Tammy

TechnoBabe said...

The place your family moved to when you were growing up sounds like a wonderful place to live. I enjoyed learning about your secret place inside the closet.

Emerging Writer said...

A bit like The Wardrobe in the Lion, The Witch and the. There's something magical about pushing between hanging coats

Totalfeckineejit said...


Jingle said...

fantastic lines.
admire your imagination.

Jinksy said...

Oh, for a house large enough for a walk in closet, let alone enough clothes to fill one! LOL. Great bit of whimsy going on here. :)

Jeanne Iris said...

Closets are indeed magical places for childhood adventures. Living in the midwest, we had little trapdoors in closets that led to other places, like the outside for milk bottle deposits and tiny doors that led to other rooms of the house. Always the place through which the imagination could wander.

Here in CT, we have almond trees that grow along the country roads, a heavenly scent in the spring and squirrels' stored dinners throughout the frigid winters.

Thank you for your amazing and nostalgic ride! What a fantastic place you had to grow up in!

Marla said...

Oh Chris, I love this. My closet was a secret place that magically turned into the Ponderosa.

Sushi said...

I really love your poem, your writing, interested in your nice blog. Thanks!