Home is a fraught feeling

Asked by: m.

Answered by: Diana Khoi Nguyen

m., placeless

Dear Poet, 

Home has always been a fraught concept and feeling for me. Somewhere to long for, to flee, to seek refuge, to idealize. The very thing that is meant to be a constant is always, in my mind, changing, mutating. I have moved a lot (city, house, etc.) and have good connections with these places and the people in them but home remains uncertain, a feeling that is difficult to grasp. Where should I look; will it ever become less ephemeral? 



Dear m.,

Thank you for sharing this history of your relationship to home—I must admit that mine is very similar. My childhood home was fraught and a site of trauma (and later, death), and I spent my adult life moving every 2-4 years, appreciating each temporary home only when it was no longer my home, each time I was settling into a new city, new state.

I offer my own thoughts here as companionship, and not as any kind of solution or answer. What I realized, after my brother’s suicide in 2014, was that home could be both the fraught bits and also the parts I wasn’t noticing, the changes that had occurred over time as I aged, my family members aged, as the literal house aged and city changed. Home became for me a routine that was present with me for as long as I am alive: making time to care for my dogs (via hikes in Pennsylvania’s woods), discovering moss in unexpected urban spots (around a fire hydrant in a cemetery, for example), swimming laps in my usual pool or finding a new one during a work trip—or even venturing out and overcoming the fear that sometimes accompanies open ocean swimming. Home was knowing I cared for people I loved as best I could. That I would also devote my full energy to my students during each semester, that I could count on myself to work hard, connect people to things that they might like, to try to contribute to toxic systems in various aspects of being alive.

I guess what I’m describing is that I found home in myself: in knowing myself to the best of my ability, in being kind to myself and others if I could. This trust is one I share with those close to me in my mind.

The Way One Animal Trusts Another

Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost.  All
around and in between the two trees that
grow there, tree of compassion and—much taller—
tree of pity, its bark more bronze, the snow
              settled as if an openness of any kind meant, as well,
a woundedness that, by filling it, the snow
might heal…You know what I think? I think if we’re
lost, you should know exactly where, by now; I’ve
watched you stare long and hard enough at the map
already…I’m beginning to think I may never
not be undecided, about all sorts of things: whether
snow really does resemble the broken laughter
              of the long-abandoned when what left comes back
big-time; whether gratitude’s just a haunted
space like any other.  This place sounds daily
more like a theater of war, each time I listen to it—
loss, surprise, victory, being only three of the countless
fates, if you want to call them that, that we don’t
so much live with, it seems, as live for now among.  If as
close as we’re ever likely to get, you and I, is this—this close—

-Carl Phillips

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