10 Mary Street
There is a certain warmth and intimacy about this poem about a house in Regent’s Park that the Skrzynecki family lived in despite being surrounded by factories. After years of wandering the world as displaced refugees, the chance to set down roots would have been irresistible so the poem conveys a sense of ownership and pride in the security it provides as the two references to “keys” and “well oiled lock” make obvious. The inclusiveness of the collective pronoun “We” is repeated 3 times emphasising their togetherness and cohesion. They belong to each other. The other pronoun “My” is possessive and indicates his identification with his parents.
The positive images and references in the poem include the “Tended rose and camellias/Like adopted children” and later “For nineteen years/We lived together” and the inclusiveness of a cultural community - “Visitors” they shared common interests, “discussions, embracing gestures” and foods with. Besides giving them a haven from weather, the enclosed space gave them a chance to preserve a private life encompassing their past life in “pre-war Europe alive/With photographs and letters”. Belonging to Australia is described as becoming “Naturalized” (an American “z”) and becoming “citizens of the soil” but not adopting the culture and ethos?
The only qualifying note of disquiet is the finite nature of their stay – nineteen years – providing an ominous warning of the transitoriness of happiness as “Inheritors of a key/That’ll open no house when this one is pulled down.” The ambiguity of the poem lies in the third stanza where it appears that the house remains empty for the next ten years awaiting development before being developed as a factory.
All in all this is a positive portrayal of a cohesive family safe and secure in their home. The tone of the poem is positive, celebratory and contented. They only regret is leaving the home.
Excerpts from a review of THE SPARROW GARDEN,
Skrzynecki grows up on Mary Street. The name adds a personal touch, even a kind of nurturing intimacy, without providing any history or lineage or pedigree. ‘There are many streets in Regents Park with girls’ names,’ he notes.
Sparrows beset their garden at the house in Mary Street, and his parents devise an elaborate system of wire covers to protect their vegetables, which are grown from seed. The wilier of the sparrows manage to get through the barriers, and for years these brave but unlucky birds are clubbed to death by Feliks, determined to protect his crop. ‘But at some point in our lives in Mary Street, it changed, and although the wire coverings stayed, the clubbing became less frequent, until it stopped altogether.’ The Sparrow Garden is a story of filial devotion, and of the admiration felt by an only child for parents whose lives began somewhere else, who overcame the odds and who adapted as best they could to the new world, accepting over time that protective measures may not always work. Even so, old habits linger on. After his mother’s death, Skrzynecki wanders round the house recalling their lives there. He notices the pink baby blanket his mother liked to place on the top of the washing machine. ‘My mother did that for years,’ he says, ‘as a precautionary measure, to protect the enamel.’1
1 Staying Alive in Mary Street by Richard Johnstone AUSTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW MAY 2004
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