Blackbox Manifold

Issue 10: Joanna Grigg

What You Can Do With a Doll and a Pin

I met two sisters I didn’t know I had.

One said – tell us about the childhood we missed.

The other said – you stole it from us, bitch.

I took them on a carriage ride around their missing pasts,

pointed out the street, the house,

abundant food, fashionable clothes,

took them on a microscope slide into their genes,

stable parents, mainly kind,

no real illnesses, deformities.

That’s kinda neat, they said,

That how you lived?

We could’ve done with some of that.

They hurled me back to what they’d had,

just the two of them, like in a Bergman movie.

Quiet, I said,

Not so crap, I said to them, Not so crap.

Stop complaining about this childhood you never had.

They sliced me open, flabby

as a deflated basketball, held me tight,

breath squeezed out of me, confined -

That’s what it was like, they whined.

They sat me at a banquet set for two,

food for two, conversation limited to two.

Glasses of vitriol for two.

They took me to a cemetery, to a grave

with their names – this is where

we grew up, stupid. This was our life.

They took me to a meadow – grasses tall, sweet –

Lovely, I thought – until they pushed my face in earth.

And this is what we breathed, they said.

This is what we got. They invoiced me

for fifty years of family: expenses,

inheritance, humanity.

I picked them up, whirled them round my head,

watched them fall empty into a pit.

Is that your grave? I shouted. Get yourselves out of it!

I walked back to my life, picked up a book,

sat facing dusk. My parents came.

It was warm, loving, full. The three of us.

Kindness to Animals

Pretty girls interrupt their preening,

take time to speak to ugly beasts like me

then stumble back to husband-hunting packs.

So I search for scents of hopelessness; I scout

until – there, in her bedroom studying;

or there, bored on the night shift.

They know me, hybrids all:  part sheep,

part cat perhaps, part crocodile.

I know their pasts, their lineage. I take each

there and then if they allow, or wait, their guard down.

I am Noah, collecting feathers from an arm,

sabre-teeth from the mouths

of animals coming in one by one. 


Sweet chime, scream of pleasure wrapped

in sheeting pulled from a silken sail.

                    Shucked into a violet storm, the ventouse

                 drilling, sucking out,

Bullets from ketches that ship the silk,

cloth that rips, masts that fall.

                   the waves

                rolling onto blanket beach

                until violet mutes to palest pink

Bound till you can’t tell, and shout from surprise

of kraken’s tail. Roaring to spit but can’t

                   and there you are, the stranger in the pub

                on a stormy evening when everyone looks around

                to see who enters, and their coldness isn’t meant,

astride flow and confluence.

Friction of shimmering fabric

                   it’s because they’re wondering why you’re naked

caught in a backing breeze, canvas renting

under malevolent winds; a focussed mind

                   on such a night and would it be rude

capturing, riding out. So many finals

                   to offer you a coat?

Joanna Grigg’s poetry has been published in a number of anthologies and magazines including The Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, The New Writer, The North, The Rialto, and Poetry South East 2010. She runs poetry groups including the Brighton Stanza of the Poetry Society. She also facilitates and lectures in universities and the community. A jobbing author, she has 13 books to her name and more in the pipeline. See her website at