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.

Iona

Iona_north_beach_640

“If you want the truth,
I’ll tell you the truth:
Listen to the secret sound,
the real sound,
which is inside you.”
Kabir

For the last three years I’ve been part of Roselle Angwin‘s Islands of the heart writing retreat on Iona. I attend to recharge my writing batteries, to spend time on a remote Hebridean island, for community with other writers and thinkers, and to benefit from Roselle’s adept group leadership. The retreat reminds me of one way to lead a writer’s life. I like to rise early. Keep a notebook to hand. Walk. Spend time in silence. There’s a lot of free-writing, reading , and play (writing exercises; games). Community with the other writers present is a huge part of the experience.

In part, I go to Iona to revisit the insights I found when I was effectively penned in my flat for ten months during cancer treatment, so easily lost in the hurly-burly of daily life with “no evidence of disease.”

I find the words flow so easily in Iona. This year I’ve come back with over 20 embryonic poems. Of course many will be discarded, and they all without exception, need to compost in my notebook / laptop before I work out what’s reusable. There’s no doubt it’s a huge privilege to be able to travel to Iona to write. On this remote island, this year, I seem to have written some of my most political poems yet.