Utility Piece is a poem addressed to an ugly sideboard that was part of my life for years. I’m not talking about a mid-century modern sideboard, the sort you see in lifestyle mags or boutiques in Leith or Bruntsfield. This sideboard was utility furniture, and belonged to my late partner’s parents.
I wrote it when I realised (some years after Morag had died) that there was no need for this piece of furniture to stay in my life. I sat down with my notebook aiming to write a letter to the sideboard (yes, I love all such self-therapy) and ended up with a poem instead. The early drafts were pure invective, but later versions calmed down somewhat, and it’s become a meditation on my relationship to the stuff I inherited – and the shared history bound up in said stuff.
It’s time to rehome you,
squat in the corner
the colour of the eighty a day
you absorbed for decades.
I never liked you.
I can say that now.
You came when I married
the youngest daughter.
No-one else had room for you
so we took you home,
fed you a terrible diet —
crammed you with board games
a tangle of connectors, adapters, chargers.
You belch booze-reek when I open your doors.
And now I’m widowed.
I wonder why I tend you,
You were part of her childhood, not mine,
yet you’ve outstayed flat-pack and two sofas.
Oh Hippopotamus, handles chipped,
bulbous gnarly legs, too heavy to lift –
do you remember
after her funeral, in our home for the first time,
her brother said, outraged
How did YOU get that?
And I, the unhappy inheritor,
retold our story.
I enjoy reading Utility Piece at open mic and readings, and I’m delighted people respond so positively – it’s fun to find myself at the bar having chats about other legendary, sometimes resented items of furniture.