Mother and Father of Hospitality. (War)

Updated: May 8, 2020

Written by Hugh Knopf

"A scattalogical tribute to my parents who in their way endeavoured to offer hospitality to the other"

Brenda presses her foot to the bottom rung of the ladder

now fastened against the side of the tree and

her playmates call up into the dense branches of the world above,

‘Come on Joan, step onto the ladder, come on, you’ll be alright’


Andy is stone drunk in the garden, the wheels of his motorbike spinning

under the two vast lime trees where children are swinging on ropes hung high

where Tommy, also drunk, is lopping off branches before

coming down and nicking the silver spoons from the kitchen.


Wun comes in from burying eggs in the flowerbed and mentions to John

that he would be eating cats about now, back in China, and

Claire and Cholet, curled together asleep on top of the boiler,

offer a brief, scornful glare at him then fall back asleep.


George has brought two fish from Lake Chad, dried, smoked, now wriggling

in a pot on the cooker with two heads of garlic and songs in Arabic and

curious neighbours coming to investigate the scandalous smells of Africa,

drifting in invisible clouds across the city, awaking fragrant dreams.


Alan floats about the kitchen, a skeletal ghost in twilight,

picking up slices of bread, a piece of cheese, casual debris from the family dinner,

and a cup of tea, skillfully balanced on a plastering trowel

then descends silently with him to his basement tomb.


Gerard is thick with forest earth and Carlsberg Special Brew from the fridge

and noisy chatter about miraculous Aloe-Vera (stacked in the broken greenhouse)

and other matters horticultural, philosophical, religious, and political

with John in the kitchen, resting before solitary battle with the divine


Peter usually comes for sandwiches and tea in the kitchen on Sunday mornings

but is Jesus and today leaps and shouts with evangelical joy,

bare-footed, bare-chested, a huge wooden cross hung around his neck

on a thick rope he dances wildly in the hall, shining, radiant, mad with love!


Jim grizzle-coughs incessantly, a bald, white chin-stubble, cheap pin-striped suit

fraganced with air-freshner, he slowly marches zimmer-framed from the kitchen

towards the consolations of a darkness bewitched with tobacco

and a sighing blue TV light behind his bedroom door.


Leah drills a hole in her bedroom floor while her rat eats the bathroom curtains

and her son hits the front door with a hammer, trying to get her attention,

‘you want to be in a home’ she screams, distracted from sawdust, falling plaster

she paints a charming picture of flowers in an earthen pot and the bath overflows.


Dunny is flying down the stairs in his black cape, gripping a light-sabre

pulling 12 bin bags of religious relics he passes Simas lovers who are

one by one trailing steadily upwards past him with dreams of ecstasy

while he severs the heads of passing students in the street outside.


John stares and mutters in the dark at the scatter of papers on the kitchen table,

carving out divinities from a jar of petroleum, a gas mask, a hot-air balloon and

words, words, words he will sing the next day with the reverence of a Hebrew scholar,

turning fear into wonder, the former revealed by the occasional fart in the chapel.


Brenda is walking down 50 year old stairs, passing the room where John dies,

sucking in his cheeks after running on a cool, wondrous morning in early spring

and an African black pearl, wet, membranous and warm, quietly falls into her hands,

the garden is dark and still outside the windows of the bedroom.


Brenda sighs in the room with John, who has studied Lawrence and whose craft

will later be passed (indirectly) to Hugh, who wonders at the sounds of death,

rocking backwards and forwards in his little bed, dreaming of Narnia

and of the wardrobe that will, eventually, lead him to Aslan.


A girl in a frock and white sandals, tree-mossed-green, descends from the world,

from Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Majdenek, from Treblinka, Dachau and Chelmno,

to children whose borders are open to the sky and the innocence of play

and to Brenda, who greets her with badges of hospitality crafted from rags.


John hears Brenda from a library some years in the future and his huge heart trembles

with reverberations of what has been, what is to come, and what is always recurring..

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