The Gas Poker

Charles 2 Comments



The Gas Poker by Thom Gunn

(An account of his mother’s suicide when he was in his teens, written in the third person.)

Forty-eight years ago—
Can it be forty-eight
Since then?—they forced the door
Which she had barricaded
With a full bureau’s weight
Lest anyone find, as they did,
What she had blocked it for.

She had blocked the doorway so,
To keep the children out.
In her red dressing-gown
She wrote notes, all night busy
Pushing the things about,
Thinking till she was dizzy,
Before she had lain down.

The children went to and fro
On the harsh winter lawn
Repeating their lament,
A burden, to each other
In the December dawn,
Elder and younger brother,
Till they knew what it meant.

Knew all there was to know.
Coming back off the grass
To the room of her release,
They who had been her treasures
Knew to turn off the gas,
Take the appropriate measures,
Telephone the police.

One image from the flow
Sticks in the stubborn mind:
A sort of backwards flute.
The poker that she held up
Breathed from the holes aligned
Into her mouth till, filled up
By its music, she was mute.


  1. Charles

    the first lines all end with “oh”… but tucked into another word, thus secreted, as it were, and all the more potent. The “oh” is alone in being not rhymed in the stanza. thus isolate and stressed somewhat. the rest of each stanza seems to act (although being cumulatively far longer than the first line) as a refrain or chorus. as though the “oh” were the actual thrust, and the subsequent verse were the thought that followed. The centre of this poem perhaps is that “hidden” “oh!”, being still audible from all that time back, but somewhat necessarily part-obscured by being hidden in another word.

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