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Closed Doors

Richard O’Brien

Closed Doors

Every Place that you left is Eden in some way.

Rooms where for good or for ill—things died.

Frewin II.10

In this room, at that desk, I must have written
my masterpieces of misogyny
(through this knowledge would only come to me
far on the other side of the illusion).

One window faced onto St. Michael’s Street.
Outside the homeless shelter—now a Bill’s—
star speakers would arrive in Benzes, Rolls.
I Blu-Tacked postcards to a lilac sheet

of sugar paper: was that the same year?
The gourmet vegetarian sausages
we cooked hungover were burnt to a crisp;
dough-soft inside. A rag rug on the floor

I still have now. I threw up in the sink
(a sign below about the “Rodding Eye”)
from dawn till six, the day of the goodbye
meal Ally had planned for me at Brasserie Blanc.

Lycée Jean Perrin

In Charlie’s flat—I barely know the contours
of what was there. I know what happened in it.
On nitrous, once, I passed out for a minute
that nothing in me wishes to restore.

Another night, I hopped the green steel gate
I couldn’t open; walked the tramlines home
to Place Viarme, and back to find the phone
I never did find (God knows in what state).

There was a party when Lindsey kissed Kate;
a night when someone stole two chicken fillets;
pizza, and football games I played, unwilling
to be left out; a neighbor who complained.

The laptop loud on Traktor, matching beats.
A photo of his girlfriend near his bed.
Bastien picked me up the last night; sad
to remember, now we barely even speak.


In what some rower called “the Arab Staircase,”
I tried and failed to turn tea into sex.
Deep green armchairs. The question of “What’s next?”
not just at three. That bathroom was the last place

I’ll ever make filled pasta in a bowl
with kettle, sieve, jarred pesto, grated cheddar.
There must have been a desk. A single bed,
two sets of brown sheets. Posters on the wall

for books I’d read with different cover art.
There was a mantelpiece on which I leant
French biscuit adverts—statements of intent,
sophistication stamped on A4 card.

The last weeks saw it filled with props for filming,
a generator. I brought back a girl
who held me till I broke my shameful spell;
who asked if I’d tried to hide her, that first morning.

1 Rue Sarrazin

In the top-floor flat, Nantes, Rue Sarrazin:
a couch with orange cushions no one chose;
the floor (stone, somehow?) cold against my toes;
a kitchenette I’ll never use again.

There was a cupboard lined with bathroom tiles
our jovial, vague landlord tried to fit
a shower in: the plumbing wouldn’t stretch
that far, he told us once, after a while—

so there they stayed. Jovanna had a map
of Europe, countries marked with playground slurs,
and though I almost never spoke to her,
one day I came back from a weekend trip

to find the condoms missing from my wardrobe.
The wall pitched steep above my bed; a window
looked on the never open church below,
roof ringed with angels. I left without a note.

Tintagel House

In the old Vauxhall Met Police HQ
there were blue, corrugated carpet tiles
and corridors which seemed to stretch for miles
between the toilets and the large, blank rooms

Lydia and her artist friends were renting
at bargain rates: the scheme kept squatters out.
They’d built a long, rough table. No amount
of shelves could make the kitchen feel less empty.

Mattresses on the ground. The windows looked
over the Thames: this was no student skyline.
It had the feel of an abandoned high-rise.
I stopped to buy Portuguese chocolate milk

each morning, walking to an internship:
for what? It led nowhere, since I’ve forgotten.
The owners finally kicked out the guardians.
For all I know, they might be demolishing it.

30 Waterside

In Helen’s house, which we can’t go to now:
rich faded rugs, a large flatscreen TV,
cases of red wine shipped from overseas
to save in bulk, I think—I forget how.

There was a tree once, made from stacking books;
a lime-green kitchen where we never went;
the gate, left open to the elements,
creaked like the stairs. Apparently, it leaked.

Helen took baths and disappeared for hours.
There was a patio where we got high,
where pigeons shat, were shot, and came to die;
a teddy sewn from scraps of other bears.

There was, eventually, a crystal skull
loaded with gin. Stuffed rodents. Hocus-pocus.
Sated with rent, the landlord gave them notice.
It had been months, by then, since I’d seen it full.

51 Ely Street

In Ely Street (pronounced the Fenland way,
not like the prophet, as I would insist),
the floor was red stone flags. Once, as a guest,
having somehow contrived to snap my key

in my own lock, I spent a night half-frozen
on a ratty couch beneath low Tudor beams;
a diagram for cribbing Cymbeline
and Hamlet on the wall. Each time I opened

the shonky bathroom door, the wrought-iron latch
had to be fought against. Dozens would drink
here, leave their mugs and glasses by the sink.
The backyard: weeds, barbecue trays, and ash.

And I was happy there. We praised Sankt Hans,
sang hver by har sin heks and ate charred Quorn,
understood hygge—friendship, keeping warm.
Someone’s rejigged the furniture, like best-laid plans.

Spectacle Works

In our apartment, by the standing lamp,
these are the things I’ll fix while I am able:
that jasmine plant. That marbled coffee table.
Socks slung over that clotheshorse: some still damp.

This flatpack sideboard, with the doors stove in.
This ten-meter TV extension lead.
These shiny cushion covers which you sewed
after about four months of promising.

Those salt-dough ducks, whose rough pearlescent sheen
soared over the eBay identikit.
That recess which you joked could hold a crib,
which doesn’t mean a joke is all you mean.

These stacks and stacks of books we’ll never read.
This open map. Those frames. That uncapped pen.
This rug I found a place for in the end.
This warm night. This unanswered text. This need.

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Interviews, New Interviews

Richard O’Brien


Richard O’Brien

Interviewed by Hannah Whiteman

One of the things that drew me to “Closed Doors” was the personality that every location in the poem seemed to possess. It seemed (for lack of a better word) real. Does this poem draw heavily on your own experiences? If so, how do you balance that autobiographical strain with staying true to the direction that the poem is taking you?

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Interviews, New Interviews

Josh Russell


Josh Russell

Interviewed by Earnest Buck

I was hoping to do a shorter interview that focused on some of the themes in “Grownups” that resonated with me. I hope this isn’t too much to share, but I was caretaker to my wife when she was receiving treatment for breast cancer and I found this story mirrored (strangely) some of my experiences. So, if you’ll bear with me, here are a few questions (I may have some follow-ups if that is amenable). 

What was the impetus for this story?

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Interviews, New Interviews

Tyler Barton


Tyler Barton

Interviewed by Michelle Neuffer

Your story begins with Rhonda watching her neighbors through the window, and the rest of it sort of mimics that experience for the reader—we get glimpses into Rhonda’s art, her job, her marriage, the neighbors’ house. These glimpses hint at longer stories that feel like they remain just out of frame. Can you talk a little about how you find your way into a story, how to find the right beginning? 

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Colby Cotton


Colby Cotton

Interviewed by Michael Sirois

Your poem “Neighbor,” confronts the great American suburb. A kind of success or resistance emerges from the speaker’s inability to adapt to this lifestyle, yet you also convey a sense of this speaker wanting to be a part of this suburban world, even if only a small part. Can you speak to this tension within the poem? Was there a balance beam you walked on during its composition in order to avoid being overly cynical?

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Deborah Levy


Deborah Levy

Interviewed by Dan Shurley

You’ve said that what people don’t say can be more interesting than what they do say, and that there is power in silence. How did you square this insight with the expectation that a memoir give us the “soul laid bare”?

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On History

Wayne Miller

On History

In December 1961, George Trabing
shot Winifred Jean Whittaker

and left her body beside the Trinity River
in one of the long twin shadows
of the I-10 overpass.

In August 1988, George Trabing
took me out on Trinity Bay
in his twenty-five-foot sloop
and taught me how to sail.

Past the bridge he cut the engine
and I felt us lock suddenly into the wind
dragging overhead—invisible,
unrelenting machine.

Trabing was in a “narcotics-fueled frenzy”
when he murdered Whittaker

while searching for more drugs
“on the Negro side of town”; when he

attempted to assault a fourteen-year-old girl,
then returned her home;

when he burglarized a house in wealthy
River Oaks for $7. In the subsequent trial,

which lasted three months,
the prosecutor sought the death penalty

but did not succeed.

The Trinity River enters Trinity Bay
by way of the Anahuac Channel,

which was cut through the marsh-pocked delta
by the Army Corps of Engineers

and on the map looks like a straw
thrust into the bay’s broad bladder.

Those afternoons George took me sailing,
I don’t think we ever went over

to the northeast side of the bay.

He drank cans of beer from a plastic cooler;
I drank 7-Up. He taught me to tie knots
and watch the mainsail for luffing.
Those afternoons

were a favor to my father, who still had to work
while I was visiting from Ohio.

George—who’d become a professor
after fifteen years in prison—
had his summers off.

Trabing was finally arrested
in the lobby of the Auditorium Hotel,
which, I’m shocked to discover,

became the Lancaster—and where,
on September 10, 2001, I had drinks
after seeing Salman Rushdie read.

The event was picketed
by Muslim fundamentalists; police barricades
maintained a channel through the crowd.

I don’t remember what Rushdie read
or anything he said. I remember
passing through that compacted organ of anger

and into the vastness of the theater,
bright red and lit with sophistication.
The protesters remained outside,

and Rushdie was the only person
facing their direction as he spoke—
and, of course,

it was September 10, 2001.

The family of Winifred Jean Whittaker
must despise George Trabing—
who is surely both abstract

and the very most powerful expression
of real. They would be right to say
it was a racist travesty of justice

he became a professor
and remained for the rest of his life
in Houston—their town—walking free

with his title and the prestige it carried.
They must find it horrifc
he could spend twenty years running

a master’s program for prisoners,
that he had the means and time
to own a boat and teach a boy to sail.

My god, why did my father
let George Trabing take me out
alone on his boat?

To show friendship, to offer trust?
As a teenager, my father

had wanted to be a priest,
though by 1988 he’d long since become
an unshakable atheist. I know George

was his good friend, and no doubt
my dad thought I would enjoy sailing.

Beyond that, it was a religious decision—
an atavism, a proof of faith—
I’m pretty sure.

Dare I say?—

Of the men I spent time with as a child,
George was among the kindest
and most generous—and he offered me
a respectfulness I didn’t, at twelve, deserve.

I sometimes flip through the Royce’s
Sailing Illustrated
he gave me,
and I recall his insistence
that a sloop rolled by the wind

would quickly right itself. Surely
he told me that only to allay my fear

when the boat heeled hard and I yelped,
thinking we were going over.
He is to me both an abstraction

and a very powerful expression
of real. Which is why I’m still here

in the library this late in the afternoon,
retrieving articles from 1961-2
on “George Trabing.”

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