between the lines: boxing hares
by Lydia Aldridge
There, on the sill, there are my boxing hares.
Before they were on the table, in our old dining room,
but we no longer have that room, or that old table so
now they are on the sill.
Sometimes I sneak past my hares, only at night
to go see that old dining room. The second window on the left and
If I catch it at just the right time,
the moon hits the space just right and all that was hidden before is alive.
Such a strange phenomena, hindsight.
The cruellest and funniest view one can have,
if I look at it too long, I’ll go blind.
I wish I knew what they’ve seen, my boxing hares,
so many sins hidden behind white fences and garden centre trees.
I remember that morning I found them shattered
On the floor, each white piece screaming in that silent way.
My mother found a man in Cornwall,
who specialised in putting broken pieces back together again,
and sent my brother 163 miles down south,
with my carefully wrapped boxing hares
weeping on the passenger seat.
It’s funny now, looking back.
It’s funny how we outsourced our grief.
Analysis by Hannah Green
Lydia Aldridge’s poignant and understated poem begins with a definitive placement, establishing the object’s centrality to the poem, anchoring us as we move through time and memory. Although the speaker is not a murderous psychopath (or if they are it’s irrelevant to the poem), the first line recall’s Browning’s ‘That’s my last duchess painted on the wall’, and like Browning, the central object takes on a life outside of itself to carry the poem’s narrative. The boxing hares work on multiple levels - they express nothing but their own objecthood as ornaments, but it’s clear they carry a much heavier meaning for the speaker. They are the physical point around which the emotion of the poem moves, and they stand as mute testament to events witnessed, and offer an alternative method of articulation for the speaker.
Almost as soon as our attention is called to the hares, we are aware of their nature as emblems of both continuity and change - ‘we no longer have that room, or that old table so / now they are on the sill’. They remain in the face of change, but at once their constancy contrasts it, perhaps even heightens it, and whether this is comforting to the speaker is unclear. There is a harsh tenderness, an understated melancholy in the final three lines of the first stanza. They are at once oddly practical and deeply moving, reminding us of the undercurrent of the poem which is at once all about the hares, and something much larger and more abstract. To contrast with this abstraction, there is a poignancy in the little exactitudes of the poem: ‘the white fences and garden centre trees’, the practicality of the ‘163 miles’. It is so contained, so controlled, even to the soft assonance of the end lines of ‘alive’, ‘hindsight’ and ‘blind’. The two stanzas seem to speak back to one another in a strange mirroring, like the boxing hares facing off on a windowsill. The poem is at once able to ‘speak’ in a way the hares cannot, to be perceived temporally where the hares are silent, and still, and at the same time to be itself an object, symmetrical, immutable, and poised.
Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote in The Place of Writing that ‘what is intractable when wrestled with at close quarters becomes tractable when addressed from a distance. The longer the lever, in fact, the less force is necessary to move the pass and get the work going’. The hares, then, here act as a lever. One senses that the ‘broken pieces’ are a little larger than the broken hares, even with the horror of the screaming ‘in that silent way’. Sometimes this is the only way that pain can be held and told - the idea of the outsourcing of grief is not, as the speaker says, merely ‘funny’, but entirely understandable, a way to engage meaningfully with something otherwise impossible to articulate. It is the hares alone which voice anything close to an excess of emotion - after their silent screams, they are ‘weeping on the passenger seat’. Through the hares, we see the heart of the poem as through a broken mirror, glimpses and guesses reflected but never fully told. The fact that we will never see the mirror whole, never get the ‘full picture’, is not important, because that is not what this poem is about. This is a subtle and graceful poem, and one which seems to strike deeper after every reading.