My Rival's House

My Rival's House
is peopled with many surfaces.
Ormolu and gilt, slipper satin,
lush velvet couches,
cushions so stiff you can't sink in.
Tables polished clear enough to see distortions in.

We take our shoes off at her door,
shuffle stocking-soled, tiptoe – the parquet floor
is beautiful and its surface must
be protected. Dust-
cover, drawn shade,
won’t let the surface colour fade.

Silver sugar-tongs and silver salver,
my rival serves us tea.
She glosses over him and me.
I am all edges, a surface, a shell
and yet my rival thinks she means me well.
But what squirms beneath her surface I can tell.
Soon, my rival
capped tooth, polished nail
will fight, fight foul for her survival.
Deferential, daughterly, I sip
and thank her nicely for each bitter cup.

And I have much to thank her for.
This son she bore – 
first blood to her – 
never, never can escape scot free
the sour potluck of family.
And oh how close
this family that furnishes my rival’s place.

Lady of the house.
Queen bee.
She is far more unconscious,
far more dangerous than me.
Listen, I was always my own worst enemy.
She has taken even this from me.

She dishes up her dreams for breakfast.
Dinner, and her salt tears pepper our soup.
She won’t
give up.
Liz Lochhead

from A Choosing: Selected Poems (Polygon 2011)

Reproduced by permission of Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd

Liz Lochhead

Appointed Scots Makar – the National Poet for Scotland – from 2011 to 2016, Liz Lochhead is both transgressive and popular; as Anne Varty wrote, ‘her work is that of one woman speaking to many,  and one person speaking for many’.

 

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