friday feast: “mrs. caldera’s house of things,” by gregory djanikian

“Life imitates art more than art imitates life.”
                                            ~Oscar Wilde

The other day, after reading “Mrs. Caldera’s House of Things,” I looked around my house.

This is what I saw:

my Brownie beanie from when I was seven years old
at least 50 pairs of shoes, size 7-1/2
several dozen character wristwatches
hundreds of children’s books
stuffed camel from Algeria with its fur going in the wrong direction
Addams Family “thing” bank
at least one bear in every room
small ceramic heart with “jama” etched into it that had been broken, then repaired
English phone booth made out of teak
Alice in Wonderland tea set
lots of dishes with words on them, like “fairy cakes,” “verbena,” and “toast and marmalade”

I realized I could go on listing things for hours and hours, and still not list everything in this house.

I read the poem again, and thought about my relationship with things. Why I had mine, and why Mrs. Caldera had hers.

Mrs. Caldera:  frugal and resourceful (Depression era mentality)

Me:  spoiled and wasteful (materialistic society)

Either way, we both ended up with lots of stuff.

“Mrs. Caldera’s House of Things” prompted me to ponder my past, my values, and my place in the world. All that from a few moments visiting an old woman in a cluttered house. Gregory Djanikian is adept at making the everyday and ordinary pulse with meaning. His poems are always immediate and accessible.

Dana Gioia once said that one shouldn’t analyze a poem, but experience it. From the moment I entered “Mrs. Caldera’s House of Things,” I became totally immersed in the world of the poem. The ending caught me by surprise, and made me want to go back. Won’t you go in?

by Gregory Djanikian (from About Distance, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1995) 


You are sitting in Mrs. Caldera’s kitchen,
you are sipping a glass of lemonade
and trying not to be too curious about
the box of plastic hummingbirds behind you,
the tray of tineless forks at your elbow.

You have heard about the backroom
where no one else has ever gone
and whatever enters, remains,
refrigerator doors, fused coils,
mower blades, milk bottles, pistons, gears.

“You never know,” she says, rummaging
through a cedar chest of recipes,
“when something will come of use.”

(Read the rest here.)

Gregory Djanikian is Head of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was born in Egypt and moved to America when he was eight. There is a good abstract of his background here, and some good audio of him reading his poetry aloud here.

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Two Writing Teachers.

If, after reading the poem, you find yourself channeling Mrs. Caldera (making cookies), please come to the alphabet soup Cookie Party and share your recipe!

~Coming to you live from Mrs. Rattigan’s House of Things