top of page

Catherine Gander: a poem


The root of the word “anger” is “tight, painfully constricted”. The root of the word “guest” houses the root of the word “host”—they stem from the same word, “stranger”. At one time they were so close as to be both foreign to and indistinguishable from each other.

It's hard to tell the guest from the host at this stage.

I make my way to the kitchen before sunrise

and there it is, making coffee, passing me a cup,

urging me to drink while it's still hot.

Even when it's not around I feel it coming – like one senses snow

waiting in a leaden sky, or a call before the telephone rings.

Last time it left it handed me its card, which I didn't accept

but later found tucked between utility bills.

I can tell it wants to be useful. It vacuums, scrapes accumulated

grief from the dishes, practises its smile on our child.

We scroll through news together, it helps me order books,

make placards, flyers, window signs. It likes to craft.

It eats what we do, preferring a set menu – the flavours

are usually the same, the textures vary. It favours

a dish passed down on my mother's side.

Its table manners are exquisite, which I always find surprising.

It has trouble being understood. I recognise its language

as similar to my own but its lexicon is limited.

Sometimes it tries to sing, although I've seen it

on its knees, bringing up bile, spitting out words like teeth.

It calls me ghos-ti, gospodi, "lord of strangers" yet tells me

it was born here. Our living quarters are painfully constricted.

The proximity of guest and host haunts me

but I let it in, set a place. I remain hospitable.

Catherine Gander is associate professor of literature at Maynooth University, Ireland. She has lived and worked in several countries, and is a critic, poet, scholar and artist. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in a number of journals and books, including Ink Sweat & Tears, Juniper, Poetry Ireland Review, Wolf Poetry Magazine, and the Irish Times.


bottom of page