I would not marry into that house.
I couldn’t condemn
my unconceived children
to their strange bloodline:
oddly shaped ears, a mad uncle,
small boys packed off to Eton,
and an imperious matriarch
reigning over the tea-table.
God, the mother loved to bake.
I was suspicious of her flirtation
with domesticity, seeing as
they had staff, but she was a pro
with the first incision,
opening up Victoria sponge
like a neurosurgeon,
and she’d wave that knife in the air,
if she disliked the conversation.
I marvelled at their gift
for turning near-miss into legend:
He almost rowed for Oxford, you know!
Giles practically climbed Everest in ‘92!
Years later, I found a photo of us,
frozen for the camera,
at a table covered with sugar.
I’d told the story to so many –
this crazy rich family! –
that I could barely recall
how much of it was theirs,
and how much mine. I confess,
matriarch held no scalpel
in the shot; the light was kind,
the cakes appeared delicious,
and all their ears looked fine.
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.
This poem came very easily to me. It was written in early 2011 when I had just returned to Scotland after living in London for nine years. I can't say whether it is based on a true story (that would spoil it completely, wouldn't it?), but I'm interested in writing about the blurred lines between perception and reality, in unreliable memory and narrative history.
I played around with the form a bit, trying it as two long stanzas, but tercets felt right for this poem; the conversational, slightly disjointed feel of a story shared in brief scenes was what I wanted. I often struggle to find the right final line for a poem, but with this one, I felt the last line had fallen just where I wanted it.