Green cover with title in white caps broken above and below a painting of a mother and child laughingHouse Work, Khadija Rouf

Fair Acre Press, 2022     £7.99

The beauty of love (and cleaning toilets)

Hilary Menos says on the back of this pamphlet that ‘every woman will see something of themselves in this book’. Indeed, House Work reveals so much about the carers, cleaners and doers of the jobs we do not mention. In her poetry, Khadija Rouf identifies us, really sees us. She buffs us up and polishes us, reveals us as the erotic, angry, intelligent, empathetic and loving creatures we are.

It's the sexy parts of this book which exist so perfectly alongside poems about mundane chores that makes it so authentic.  

The collection opens to the romance of ‘Hands (addressed to my lover)’ and further elaborates on the physical side of their relationship in ‘In Bed’:

Under the weight of your breath, I’m lost. […]
You spin gold inside my head,
I burst, crimson, at your fingertips.

With such a romantic, heady beginning, you might not expect to arrive so quickly at ‘Utility room’ — a wonderful single stanza describing an ‘armoury of cables, electrics and poison’ and the ‘methodical patterns of duty’. But these conflicting themes stand confidently side by side throughout this book, bringing a wholeness and realism which I adore.

On page 18 we come to the inevitable ‘Toilet’ — the cleaning with wipes ‘stained like tea’ and the removal of ‘urine stains, small hairs, rusty smears’. But this cleaner is ‘a dancer who is on her knees’, her ‘entranced swaying’ and rhythm brought alive in the poem’s five-stanza form, its ‘discard and breathe’ refrain.

‘But domestic becomes cosmic’, Rouf writes in ‘The formation of dust’. And, having overcome an ironing-induced rage, she concludes her glorious pamphlet with ‘Danse macabre’ (rather neatly, also addressed to her lover):

The infinite oval of your pelvis, sciatic,
the place I kissed and watched you rise,
and how you breathed my name,
how I burst with the fingerprints
you left all over me.

I adore the unexpected passion of House Work and how this poet so elegantly convinces me that romance can still be a possibility — even on bin day.

Vic Pickup