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,
depressed place, 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
at 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 the half light, and though we struggled
with true decisions we never identified
anybody 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.