Dear Sabrina – by Rebecca Baird

By Wasafiri Editor on May 17, 2021 in


After Sabrina Benaim

My house is falling down. It is falling down, but 

slowly. Slowly falling down is called, 

in surveyor’s terms,

‘subsidence.’ ‘subside’ means to ‘ease off’, 

‘relent’, ‘become less

intense.’ It is odd that in English we have words that 

mean to ‘become less’ of something

— oxymoron. My mother is 

a hairdresser. She says she is adding

definition to my fringe but all I see

is more hair hitting the ground. Hitting 

the ground is what dead things do. Dead things pile up

in old cages in the back garden as

my father shaves down wood

to fix the gate. Fix the gate because every year,

the gate scrapes the ground, because

my house is falling down. Slowly.  


My house is falling down but for now 

all the cracks are on the inside. On the inside, my 

mother can cover them

with abstract art and photographs. Photographs make

my mother happy because

she likes looking at her family. Her family populate 

all the photographs we have. We have none

of my father’s family 


— oxymoron. My little brother is a dog. A ‘dog’ sometimes 

means a misogynistic man but my little brother is

a German Shepherd although the kids

in the village think he is a wolf. A wolf would

howl at the moon, though, and we only ever get clouds or

sunshine here. ‘sunshine here’ is what the cat mews 

as she rolls in patches

of light, leaves white spiny hairs on the red

stair carpet. ‘red stair carpet’ sounds like 

it should be a book about Marylin Monroe, I think. I think

I lied before,

because there are cracks on the outside of the house

too, but we don’t talk about them. 


We don’t talk about them but we notice

the flowers growing in them. The flowers growing

in them are pink and yellow and

make the house look like Miss Honey’s house

— the one from the book. The book 

was the only book I kept in my grandparents’

house, which did not fall down but 

which is not theirs anymore

on account of they are both dead. They are both dead and in 

the ground, but their house is still there, although the book  


is in my house now. My house now has a birds nest in the space 

between the gutter and the rafter. The gutter and the rafter are join

-ed by a plank of wood and behind that plank is the extractor

fan from the kitchen and so the space is

always warm. The space is always warm but bird nests are not 

always warm, and so

the space and the bird mother

over-incubated one of the eggs and

the chick pecked out

too soon. The chick pecked out too soon and

the bigger birds poked their heads in the nest and

stole it and dropped it and left it. My mother found it 


laying below the nest, still half in its egg,

smashed on the ground. Hitting the ground is what

dead things do. Dead things are more horrifying when you almost

step on them with your bare feet,

says my mother. My mother tells me she put the chick

in the food waste bin. The food waste bin sits under the nest,

which is between the gutter and the rafter, and is probably

the reason that the bigger birds were there

anyway. The bigger birds are two doves which

sit on our garden wall in the summer and in a sad tree

in the winter, huddled together. Together,

you can see why they are symbols of peace, so enduring  


and loyal to one another. Yesterday

it was a clammy, green day, and a third dove sat on the fence. The smaller of

my garden’s pair marched along to meet it, and clamped its jaws 

over the stranger’s beak in some crazy kiss

— not oxymoron. It flung the new bird’s head 

up and down, deranged polka dancing until

the music stopped – music I was not privy to –

and the smaller dove marched back

to her husband and the new bird

sat still. Still, I don’t know what it meant, 

but I thought of the word ‘peacekeeper’ and

how the black rings around the dove’s necks all look like

little nooses.  


Last night I lay in my teenage bed and grinned at

all of the teenage memories in the teenage bed and the house 

creaked. The house creaked but not the same way that everyone else’s house

creaks. Everyone else’s house creaks because of plumbing

or old floorboards or

drunk-footed siblings sneaking in late

or parents having very very quiet sex — oxymoron. But my house 

creaked because it is falling down. This morning I looked for the new 

crack but I haven’t found it yet. I haven’t found it yet but my mother will – 

she always does — and she will sigh 

and clutch a mug of warm tea. A mug of warm tea that she 


will roll across her forehead, ironing out the worried

creases. She will move her square jaw from side to

side and flick her pinkie nail on her teeth and think

about the crack in the house and how the house is falling

down and how the ground

is where dead things go. I will stand in the doorway and chatter so

that when she takes the mug off her head and opens

her eyes, she will have to look at me

and not the crack. Looking at me seems to help

her slow the cracks in her head. I am Polyfilla for this woman. This

woman who is also my mother, whose house – which is falling down – is home 

to a menagerie. I imagine the sky falling,

a big ceramic plate slipped from my mother’s oven-gloved hand and

smashing the house like a bowl in the dishwasher. I imagine the birds

flying away, leaving behind their crushed eggs; the cat climbing

to the rubble roof and finding the sunniest spot, little-brother dog howling

at the moonless village sky and all the flowers

pressed between bricks like they are book pages and me, Polyfilla, too small

to keep this all together. Keep it together. 


The ground is eating up this house, but I am told

it will stand ‘long enough.’ Long enough that every year 

my father shaves the gate to stop it scraping on the path and my mother

cuts my hair and puts out bird feeders. This house is subsiding, but

she owns the ground.  




Rebecca Baird is a Scottish poet and arts journalist based in Dundee. Her work has appeared in several small publications such as The Rally, Folklore Publishing’s 2020 Secret Chords anthology and The Voyage Out Publishing’s These Windows collection. Her self-published pieces can be found on her blog or on her Instagram.

‘Dear Sabrina –’ was shortlisted for the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize for Poetry. 

The 2021 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize closes 31 May. Enter here