First the welcoming. Smiles all round. A space/ For handshakes. Then she put me in my place –
Short statements begin the poem as the young woman arrives to meet her boyfriend's mother. The word choice is important here: “First” suggests something planned or a routine. It could imply that this is not the first meeting the mother has had with a visiting girlfriend. On the surface
handshakes suggest friendliness but the word choice of
space at the end of line one suggests that there is an intentional distance between them. This is confirmed when the speaker says that the older woman
put me in my place. This phrase highlights the mother’s dominance, of the house, the visit, and even the son.
This room/ Was always his – when he comes home/ It’s here for him.
Lochhead uses direct speech to quote the mother's exact words. This shows how the mother makes subtle criticism of the younger woman.
When he comes home can be read as a prediction. The mother is assuming the relationship won’t last and that her son will come back to her alone. It could also suggest an ongoing situation - implying all the times when he returns from a broken relationship.
“‘Unless of course,’ she said,/ ‘He brings a Friend.’
Again, the mother implies that this is something her son has done repeatedly. This girlfriend is just another in a line of visiting girlfriends who haven’t lasted. The capitalisation of
Friend lends importance to the word. It suggests that these visitors are more than friends. But this euphemistic word undercuts the importance of the relationships, removing the girl from girlfriend, as if denying the existence of love or a sexual attraction.
a night or two,
Once or twice before. Her words are sarcastic and carefully chosen to emphasise her own years old bond with her son and the younger woman's relative unimportance in his life. By using the mother's exact words it shows that they have been remembered by the younger woman and suggests her intense dislike of the older woman. The reader can imagine the young woman, angry and alone in the box room, going over what has just happened.
(Lightweight, glossy, made of some synthetic/ Miracle)
At last the mother goes and the young woman is left to unpack. Her suitcase is described in terms that suggest her relationship to her boyfriend:
Lightweight suggests something insubstantial;
glossy implies something superficial;
synthetic boyfriend tells us that it isn’t real. Whereas the mother has a long, loving connection with her son, she has made the younger woman feel that her own relationship with him is false and not built to last.
The young woman now regards the room itself. Enjambment is used to highlight the word
pathetic which clearly shows the speaker's contempt for how the mother has left the room. She goes on to describe it as a
"shrine" which has a religious association regarding reverence for the dead. It suggests that the older woman has left the room undisturbed just as it was when her son lived there. This is stressed by the double meaning of the word “must” to suggest mustiness - somewhere damp and stale.
She must/ Think she can brush off time with dust/ From model aeroplanes.
The speaker is contemptuous of the way the mother sees her son. She seems to still see him as a child. This is made clear by
brush off time and shows the woman keeps the room as it always was. Removing
dust gives an image of the woman tending to the
shrine. It also suggests the dust we return to when we die. The woman sees the mother’s relationship with the son is something dead.
At this point of the poem, the speaker appears confident that she will be the victor in this struggle for the young man's affections. But then this is undercut by uncertainty.
I laugh it off in self defence./ Who have come for a weekend to state my permanence.
laughs at the machinations of the mother, the fact that this is defensive suggests responding to an attack rather than asserting control. And the contrast of “weekend” and “permanence” could show that the woman is aware of how short her time with her lover is compared to the enduring relationship she wants, or the longstanding one the mother has. It does also reflect a level of determination to see off her rival.