‘Grey House’ takes on the persona of a young child who eagerly goes into a new home, an apartment complex, with their mother. Rather quickly, the child becomes exposed to harsh realities and becomes disillusioned with the excitement of moving to a new place, and the conditions that led them there.
What the Heck am I Rambling About is a series of blog posts where I breakdown a work I have created and shared. You can read the poem here if you aren’t caught up!
Someone has commented that these series of blog posts and the Author’s comments section are going to be useful tools for HSC students in the future. A very flattering comment and I think when I did the HSC I would have loved it if the people I was writing about how done a blog series like that. Alas, the prescribed texts were all mostly dead white men.
Set out – almost barefoot. Along my journey
on the cigarette path, I met Crystal, Molly,
was tracked by a Dragon and became BFs with Mary Jane.Stanza 5
There is only two stanzas that have the optimistic tone, perhaps misguiding the reader due to the child’s curiosity. When the child’s life starts to break down, she becomes systematically disempowered, first starting with the bare necessities such as electricity and then at school by teachers who punish them for being late, not at the fault of the child. Those who the child meets on the way aren’t people but the code names for different drugs. The child being Best Friends with Mary Jane (Marijuana) is a comment of how this unregulated use for people in such fragile states can act as a gateway drug. The reader can take away what that type of relationship would be for a young person. Is Best Friend also someone for life in this instance, denoting a pessimistic point of view that they cannot escape? Or, like a fleeting childhood friendship, will the child escape it eventually?
I had to leave that woman when I came of age.
For she said we’d be home by autumn’s end.Stanza 6
“When I Came of Age” is subjective. Does she mean when she became an adult? Or when the child could legally move on from her mother at the age of 16 (in many western countries)? Or perhaps when she realised when her mother wasn’t good for her. The term Autumn’s end is meant to symbolise that this move was supposed to be a grace period in the mind of the child. The excitement of a new place perhaps shadowed the permanency of such a living situation the child was not ready for. The line also shows that there was a desire to return to the past life, before the Grey House. However, like a great number of cases, this return isn’t always as conceptualised. Referring to her here as that woman is the last time she is given a gendered identity. When the mother becomes labelled as parent at the end, it is revealed that the child still conceptualises somewhat of a caretaker role, but not in the typical narrative of the maternal bonds.
She was neither the executioner nor the criminal
but the wife of the bread-thief.Stanza 7
Throughout the poem, there’s no direct attack against the mother, just comments about the unruly life. As the child ‘grows up’ they become more aware of her mother’s context. The child expresses sympathy for her mother, which is captured in this line. The metaphor of the bread-thief alludes to their situation, which suggests that her previous father did petty crime to support their family, which has led to the current life. The mother was responsible for the situation or the person who created the situation. In the same way, the child is linked to her mother as they are not responsible. Although neither are deserving of the ‘Grey House’, they both end up in that life, a sad common tragedy experienced by people with similar hardships.
This poem has been heavily inspired by my social work experience. This is perhaps the most tangible of the ‘Autumn, That Bastard’ collection. To leave you with some thoughts think:
- What happens now to the girl? What happens to the mother?
- Is this a cyclical life-event, like the season of Autumn? Or has the child realised their predicament and overcome it?
I hope you enjoyed this rambling and you can find some more ramblings below.