I want an item without associations,
something clean of history, so
it can’t be the dust-pan, at least fifty
years old and tattooed with the cigarette stubs
of Mrs Ellis who used to ‘do’ for us
when the children were small and the house
too big. And it can’t be the Spong Bean Slicer 633,
still clamped on the work top, cast iron,
British made, dark green and beautiful
with its two nicely shaped holes for thin/fat beans.
It comes apart so neatly, unscrews
to reveal its Sheffield steel blade. It’s probably
one of those items bought by my ex
who had an obscure affection for mangles
and glass bottles. It remains brilliant for slicing
string beans, churning them out in even
slivers, though nowadays we hardly ever
eat them. Still, the grandchildren
like poking paper down the holes
and turning the handle for the thrill
of metamorphosis. And it can’t be
the dishwasher, because it’s impossible
to use without my brother-in-law’s voice
instructing me on how to load it and to put
the knives handles up and not to keep
opening and shutting the door this being
a waste of time and motion. So I suppose
it has to be the new lawn mower named
by some dullard, The Veri-Green which
replaces the old Panther (now there’s a name
to mow with) which has travelled from
Bristol to Edinburgh, has known two lawns
and a number of Damons. The Veri-Green
has a flimsy net called a grass catcher
instead of a bucket. As yet it has no
associations, no history. One day when the shed’s
rusted it a little, I might actually like it.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2014. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2014 was Roderick Watson.
The title of this poem is exact for I was asked to write a poem about a tool or utensil by a member of my small workshop group. It was the set subject for that month. I’ve often wanted to write poems based on domestic or household objects, particularly ones that carry suggestions beyond themselves or please by their combination of beauty and usefulness.
The workshop happened at a time when, reluctantly, I’d just bought a new lawn-mower. It arrived all bright and shiny and left me mourning the old lawn-mower which I used in my current garden and the garden before that. I suppose the poem is truly about seeing – and how we can’t see anything ‘clean of history’. Household tools and utensils tend to contain a family history so that we come to love the objects used so frequently that they acquire our imprint.