(fragmented from “Come Into the Kitchen,” by Ruth Merton, 1922) *
our kitchens more than any other
our own activity
he comes home beautiful
full of a charm we cannot need
we should all be looking
beautiful in our kitchens whether or not—
The room itself should be light.
The kitchen is cut by many doors, especially in summer.
No one who has not had an open kitchen
The aesthetic is a nice place to sit down
while we are waiting
frosty mornings, wet feet warmed,
settled against the effort.
Any table, stained, is easily kept:
an occasional rubbing,
the reflection of fruit, and flowers,
and china and silver
is very nice indeed.
Of the things we need and want:
their beauty, their usefulness:
there is no end. We find ourselves
nicely balanced over his heirlooms.
There is no reason on earth why we should not have
the best ones
in the most unlikely ways.
Good to look at.
All shapes and sizes.
A good enamel.
Then we come to realize what a big—
attractiveness: any one who has
a kitchen. Dazzling.
The particularly clean
against wet green leaves.
Is it sensible to make life in the kitchen? nature may display our prettiest
where they look charming—but are we
oh! so ugly? Without a good proportion, a pleasing line, beauty?
We must scorn such-like. Preparing not only
a kitchen: bright-colored calico, bowls and jugs:
need sacrifice nothing, blazing porcelain,
a merciful dark shadow, the open
with attention to our kitchens we may improve.
Can we not come when our hands
are busy with a thousand?
* Explanatory Note
“Come Into the Kitchen” is part of a manuscript of poems fragmented from Victorian domestic literature. More specifically, the project takes fiction and nonfiction that was aimed at middle-class housewives in the late 1800s and early 1900s, picks it apart for language, and reconstructs it as poetry about gay home life, desire and grief.
An editor’s note in The Ladies’ Home Journal of 1888 reads, “Don’t think all the advice concerning housework you find in your papers written for you. Sift it.” I’m interested in what the invisible audience—say, a gay reader—brings to the scripture of housework. What happens when we take out our scissors and begin to sift more extremely? What possibilities for domestic happiness become clearer, and what new griefs emerge?
I seek suggestion and implication in the texts I steal from. My writing process is not erasure, but a reworking of what exists, what’s permitted. What I am looking for is the stories that have not existed for me, and a way to rewrite, reclaim, or re-express the affinities I have found. The project is a rearrangement. It makes an effort to build rooms within the rooms that are available, and move some of those existing rooms around.
Liam October O’Brien grew up on a small island. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Electric Literature, A&U Magazine, the Denver Quarterly, The Boiler, bæst, and The Bennington Review. He completed his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is one of the founding editors of Vetch: A Magazine of Trans Poetry & Poetics.