Things are tired.
Things like to lie down.
Things are happiest when,
for no reason, they collapse.
That French plastic bottle, still half-full,
that soft-back book, just leaning on
another book, drowsily:
soon they will want to go outside,
soon you will find them in the grass
with the empty bleaching cans and that part
of an estate agent’s sign
that’s covered in a fine grime like mascara.
That plastic bag you’ve folded up
feels constrained by you and wants
to hang from bushes, looking like
a spirit, sprawled and thumbing a lift.
Things are bums, tramps, transitories:
they prefer it when it’s raining.
Lightbulbs like to lie in that same
long, uncut, casual grass
and watch the funnel effect: the way
on looking up the rain all seems
to bend towards you,
the way the rain seems to like you.
Things which do not decay
like it best in shrubbery, they like
to be partly buried.
They like the coolness of the grass.
Most of all, they like it
when it rains.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2004. 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 2004 was Hamish Whyte.
Interesting and amusing information here about things. Nice repetitions. (Should I be giving points?)
I suppose I wrote ‘Facts about Things’ when I was feeling French, in that it seems to be a poem very happy with absences and abstractions. Mebbe ‘French’ should read ‘a bit like Georges Perec’. I often have intense if strictly Platonic relationships with inanimate objects, because they’re not troubled by their inarticulacy; in fact there is something wonderfully eloquent about their silence.
My silences, on the other hand, are often just badly-camouflaged and deeply misanthropic inner rants. I keep having to remind myself how much I love people when I get to know them, whereas with some objects the bonding occurs instantaneously. They say pets give you unconditional love, but things go one better and are just unconditional. They also don’t back off warily the way people do when they realise how much I love them.
I originally wanted to call the poem ‘Stuff about Things’, which at the time seemed the most perfect title imaginable, but then I realised the poem’s tone was still a little eager to define, so I used the F word. I used to be called an Informationist (by some nasty boys that followed me home), because I was interested in playing with the way the Scottish tradition handles facts and information, and I see this as a derived form of that interest. It’s from my Analytical Informationist period.
I wanted the objects in the poem to be quite ordinary, because I think there’s a played-out excess in some lyric poetry’s celebration of phenomena, a bit like people getting evangelical about Ecstasy in the Nineties. You know what I mean: oysters are gynaecologically wondrous; the skin of octogenarian pianists is particularly fine. Most things aren’t as shrill as people, and so the mystery of the universe can’t be particularly shrill either (except for that bit of it made up of shrill people). Mostly it’s just there. It’s going to be just as present in light bulbs as it is in alligators, and you can contain it quite efficiently in plastic bags.
I’ve always liked plastic. When I was a child, no-one explained it was artificial, and so that divide between organic and synthetic never took hold. I have similar difficulties with authentic and inauthentic language. If people dislike such things, how can they put up with makie-up people in novels, or the arbitrary values imposed on goods by money? Things have none of these problems. They are neither environmentally friendly nor unfriendly. They don’t care what they’re worth. And I admire that.
I’m also a little unnerved by it, which I think is an almost indispensable ingredient in any poem. Often when reading poems I find I’m more scared of the poet than I am of the poem, so I hope this poem has a sufficiently secret life of its own for me to absent myself, and let it get on with its work. In fact it’s a pity they asked me to write this note. You probably agree.