Poems by Phyllis Hoge
Illustrations by Maxine Hong Kingston
Reviewed by Eleanor Dart
This Quakerly book of poems invites the reader home. A member of Albuquerque Friends Meeting, Phyllis Hoge is the author of many published collections. In her acknowledgements to Hello, House, she writes, “Because I love my house as I might love a genial friend, I can love and celebrate my housework.” This collection of poems invites us to hold the smooth roundness of a cup and to smell laundry fresh from the line. Many of the poems speak of objects that carry love and memory. Others address daily tasks – cleaning the bathroom, ironing, dusting, making the bed – and the thoughts that arise while hands do familiar work.
In “Holding On,” Hoge contemplates her connection to things in her home, mindful of simplicity and mortality:
I know you can’t take it with you. I know what Death
Told Everyman: Salvation relies on good deeds. But things
Are good deeds. They glow into the coming years
Quietly. I want them near to me. Forever.
No gimcrack—my great-grandmother’s emerald ring,
My amber pendant, the dark Victorian furniture,
Even worn sheets, and the watch my father wore.
For many readers, the dailyness of the poems about housework will feel as familiar as their own breath. As I read “Wooden Floors,” my feet and eyes remember other floors that I have known:
Are gouged in places, scored black crosswise
Here. And there, some kind of oil
Got spilled . . .
Mere hours before the birth of a child
I would kneel down and wash my wooden floors,
Working, tracing the grain with the palm of my hand,
Remembering trees they come from, what they are.
Afterwards I’d rise, sustained, at peace, into labor.
The poems in Hello, House do not challenge us to struggle with the torment of the wider world. References to recycling, free trade coffee, and paying taxes are present as part of life’s daily rhythms, not as exhortation or accusation. Instead, the poems of Hello, House are rich in touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. As a counselor who works with survivors of trauma, I know how our senses ground us. We may spin off into mental torment, agonizing about our troubles and the troubles of the planet, and the sensory world can bring us back to center. The rumble of traffic, the rhythm of handwork, the smell of fresh ground coffee – these things have the power to heal.
Surely our homes, however grand or humble, stable or transient, can offer us solace and comfort if we allow ourselves to inhabit them as Phyllis Hoge inhabits hers. We need this, we Quakers. If we are to do the hard work of building outer peace, we need to rest in that which brings us inner peace.
I have added Hello House to the small stack of books I dip into for morning meditation. I sit indoors in my green leather chair, or out on the back porch in early light. I read a poem. I sip coffee from my yellow cup. The cup warms my hands. I hear the muted rush of traffic on Broadway. I see sparrows surge up and settle again in a grapefruit tree. I feel the sun on my arm. I am here, just here. Hello, house. The day begins.
Hello House is illustrated with Maxine Hong Kingston’s whimsical pen and ink drawings – of ants and chairs, hands knitting, a woman doing dishes, an old telephone – each one a delicate delight. It is published by Fithian Press, 2012. ~~~
Eleanor Dart is an author and psychotherapist and a lifelong Quaker, at present a member of Pima Friends Meeting in Tucson, AZ.