Oh Hippopotamus

utility_piece

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.

Utility piece

It’s time to rehome you,
Hippopotamus,
squat in the corner
scuffed veneer
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,
oxpecker-busy.
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.

To absent friends

I’m looking forward to the To absent friends festival on 7 November, when I join other poets and storytellers taking part in the Marie Curie event Telling stories to keep memories alive. I’ll be reading some of my poems written in response to the death of my late partner (there’s a whole sequence in Wristwatch) and more importantly, I’ll be chatting to people about writing to celebrate and commemorate their dead.

To absent friends sets out to be a Scottish version of the Mexican Day of the Dead – I love this idea! As the website says, “People who have died remain a part of our lives – their stories are our stories…” Which is exactly what my poem Utility piece is trying to say.