Living Room


by Rethabile Masilo



The living room was all that the world

could see of the house we lived in

that was built on a hill, it was sunken

lower than the other rooms,

a cold space like a grave expecting someone.

No headstone or garlands, in that room

of our house on a hill, and because

the master chambers were lower still,

not sunken but at the level of the world,

we slept with death as with the living.

That house—bare, if not for rare pieces

of antique wood furniture, one table,

varnished chairs and cupboards my folks

had bought when they got married,

greeted the intruder with its silence.

And so it was not a bunker, never meant

to be one, just a room sunk into the earth

and eyeballing the neighbours with its one

big pane. And perhaps that's why they came

one night to disturb our sleep in such a way,

like a sudden uproar during prayer time;

our prayers, and three square meals a day,

were all conducted in that same room

of the house on a hill where we lived.

In the evening, before we went to bed,

the kitchen was a furnace, no mantle

above the black tin stove, no portraits

of sullen old relatives to eyeball us

in half darkness, and though we struggled

with true decisions we never identified

the family with any of the killings, ever,

but found ourselves in the slow flames

that knots of nuggets made of us, aglow

in the kitchen of the house on a hill

with a sunken room, where we lived.