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There is nothing wrong with my sister

New poems

There is nothing wrong with my sister

Maria S. Mendes

 

There is nothing wrong with my sister

 

After you told my sister

that there was no one else

but you no longer wanted her,

she went to bed and tried to work out

what she had done

and what was wrong with her

and spent the night awake.

 

There is nothing wrong with my sister

but may there be something wrong

with the Ikea wardrobe

she helped you to build,

so that tonight it falls apart

and wakes you

from your unaccompanied sleep.

Lorraine Mariner, “There is Nothing Wrong with my sister”, Furniture. London: Picador, 2009.

 

I like this poem, as I always secretly wished my Ikea furniture punished the person who ended up staying with it, but also because it is an overt way of defending someone and of threatening another, making use of cuteness and formal simplicity to reenact long-term revenge, forever printed in the form of a poem. In fact, this poem seems to illustrate Sianne Ngai’s perspective, in Our Aesthetic Categories, according to which, in certain poems “Delightfulness offered by cuteness is violent”. In a chapter which relates cuteness with modern poetry, Ngai shows how some poems make use of characteristics such as “smallness, formal simplicity, softness or pliancy” (HUP, 2012, 64) to portray situations which are “neither precious, small or safe” (70).

“There is Nothing Wrong with my sister” is not a difficult poem to read or to understand, overtly refusing the notion that poetry should be understood as a riddle or as a text concealing a hidden message only to be comprehended by a clever few, nor could it, after all, we don’t know how good are the sister’s boyfriend hermeneutic skills. The poem is a message, in the likes of William Carlos Williams note about plums in “This is just to say”, which is why none of the vocabulary is complex.

The boyfriend’s choice of an Ikea wardrobe – the symbol of a type of furniture not meant to last – could say something of his relations, while placing him in the position of doubting whether it is safe to sleep near it, transforming this daily object into something potentially dangerous. At the same time, certain lines have a double meaning, in the sense that they portray the poet’s sister situation, but also the difficulties of those trying to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture. This may be perceived in the following lines: “she went to bed tried to work out /what she had done / and what was wrong with her / and spent the night awake”. Those of us who have faced Ikea’s apparently simple, yet difficult to follow, instructions, know the feeling of trying unsuccessfully to built a piece of furniture, giving it up for a few moments so as to resume the task, while thinking where it all went wrong and where we have failed.

The fact that the title of the poem is repeated in the first line of the second stanza also contributes to highlight the message being conveyed (and which is now an affirmation, but might also have been a form of advice conveyed to the sister during her sleepless night). At the same time, if the poem also describes the sorrows of those trying to assemble a piece of furniture, then the title, which is repeated in the second stanza, may equally allude to those trying to piece together Ikea’s furniture (and to the idea that there is nothing wrong with it, guilt lies always in those trying to assembly it wrongly).

The two stanzas have a similar dimension, but the clear and humorous message becomes slightly aggressive when the 3-beat pattern of the first lines is disrupted in the following lines, to be resumed in the initial lines of the second stanza and breaking-up again in the final lines of the poem. Even though the prosody is loose, thus, it does use form to produce tone. This implies that the tension between the pattern and the exceptions to it make the poem conversational, but also confrontational in the final lines, as if it is doing two things at the same time: repeating the pattern of the sister’s relation (and of those trying to assemble Ikea’s furniture), in which all goes well at the beginning, but is suddenly disrupted, and characterizing in a light way a situation which then becomes a warning (beware of the wardrobe) and a written form of revenge (everyone will know what you did to my sister). “There is nothing wrong with my sister” is, thus, a poem overtly clear, unlike the feelings of self-doubt which the boyfriend has left to the poet’s sister.

Maria Sequeira Mendes


Maria Sequeira Mendes is a professor at the Faculty of Letras, University of Lisbon, and collaborates with Teatro Cão Solteiro. She wrote for the first time about poetry at primary school, but the composition had spelling mistakes. It was then she promised she would never write about poets who used difficult words to copy. This has proved to be a difficult oath to live by.