Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

BooksJune 14, 2024

The Friday Poem: ‘The white room’ by Vincent O’Sullivan

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A poem from Vincent O’Sullivan’s posthumous collection Still Is.

The white room

It was not so much that I asked to leave
the party, as several suggesting I might feel
more comfortable, shall we say, elsewhere?
They kindly made sure my glass was freshly
attended, then took my arm, solicitously,
to lead me down the few steps from the party
to the white room.

After the exuberant chatter, such fine
pictures, and dancers leaping with unaffected
joie, like a hyper child airborne from sofa
to table and twirling before its precise
arrival onto rugs, the white room
was austere. So little one might say of it
but ‘room’, and ‘white’.

The walls cleared as senility’s tomorrow.
Two black chairs facing each other
to either side of a square table
and an empty vase holding only that absence
of colour of glass vases. At some point
a girl knocked, requesting the other chair
for the party.

I sat until almost morning, not in any way
discomfited, not in the least put out.
I tried to imagine flamingoed birds against
the pure walls, which was too ambitious,
that, I suppose, being the walls’ intention,
as the distant clamour of ‘party’ so defined
the white room.

This too the room to hear in their fading
the guitar strings, tempering that touch more distant.
Those pictures we lived on, such memorable frames.
A woman, say, turns as an empty vase can be turned,
her silence more silent than waiting distant trains.
Twilight enters the room as though meaning to find it.
As it does. The white room.


Still Is, published by Te Herenga Waka University Press, is in stores now. The book will be launched by Fergus Barrowman on Friday 21 June at the National Library, Wellington, with readings by Jenny Bornholdt, Diana Bridge, Bill Manhire, Gregory O’Brien, and Chris Tse.

The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are currently closed.

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