A man on the bus smiles at me and I stumble because
for a millisecond he’s Tom Potter, a man
who held dice in the bowl of his hand and
never revealed when he’d use them.
Tom Potter was enormous as the Bank of England.
I’d phone Tom Potter and he’d say Sorry but do nothing.
I’d visit Tom Potter, he’d sparkle and call me
Darling, do nothing. The man on the bus looks down,
embarrassed. I too look down, embarrassed.
I will always be the woman who once knew Tom Potter.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. 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 2010 was Jen Hadfield.
The near-mythic 'Tom Potter' is a kind of contemporary Paul Bunyan, the larger-than-life protagonist of Frost's tall tales. Talking about poems that you succumb to, rather than 'commence to read' – Gill Andrews's entire pamphlet has this compulsive quality. I was convinced by her 'Variations on works by Pablo Picasso', too; not such an easy thing to pull off. So many poems inspired by visual art end up blurry facsimiles of the originals. Not so with Iain Crichton Smith and not so with Gill Andrews.
People who read 'Tom Potter' sometimes assume the poem is about an ex-lover. In fact, it was inspired by someone I had more of a business relationship with. But I believe one of the joys of poetry is that two people can read the same poem very differently, and each draw something different from it. The poem also owes a debt to Paul Farley's 'Liverpool Disappears for a Billionth of a Second'.