Doesn’t it stink British that my friend said
It’s OK if we die because we know how
we feel about each other — even if one of us
is dead, at least the other won’t be
sleepless over unsaid love. I agreed
and by doing so confirmed that we did
indeed know how we felt. This took place
in another time. Now we’re in a high school
teen drama and I am a shaken bottle sending
its lid to the sky. A park bench is framed
with blossoms. Magic hankies balloon out
of our mouths — sorry, thank you, sorry,
thank you. Three stretched episodes of missing
each other’s calls but at last we’re giving
our viewers what they want. The script says
they hug with significance and now I’m worried.
If only I could hear the soundtrack. Anyone
in this business knows that nothing good comes
after an embrace like that. The sky looks
unsure of itself and were it up to me,
we would walk the same way home, but I
don’t have that kind of power on these sets.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2022. 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 2022 was Ifor ap Glyn.
This poem draws us in with its conversational tone, before transforming into a succession of scenes from a ‘high school teen drama’ and we realise that our poet protagonist is stuck in a stylized sequence of events, as a relationship plays out. She’s an acute observer but without agency .
This piece connected with me, because in a former existence I wrote for a TV soap opera, and was not above employing some of the clichés that this poem skewers so effectively!
Since writing this poem, the discussions in its opening lines about the death of a friend moved from a hypothetical realm to a bitterly painful reality, and as such, I’ve now come to understand much more clearly what I was writing about at the time. The piece began as a kind of self-justification: in lockdown I had watched the US teen drama TV series that the poem takes its title from, and in order to make up for what felt like an unproductive use of time I thought I would try to write something inspired by it. Now, I realise that it’s about how we express love: the balance between embarrassment-forced understatement and performative grand gesture, and culturally speaking, how ineffective we can be at striking it.