Blackbox Manifold

Issue 13: Alexandra Strnad

The Borders

When you leave for the holidays

    I sit in my suburban room

sketching telegraph poles,

    smudging avenues, cul-de-sacs

from the page. Pastels bleed

    pastel shades, the ordinary

lawns are shorn of buttercups

    and children run in squares

round a perimeter fence.

By the paddling pool, I scatter

    artisan bread crumbs to a crowd

of mallards, for you, salmon

    spawning season on the Tweed,

cycling with a rod and triangle hook,

    a box of Jock Scott, Blue Charm,

Mar Lodge selected with precision,

    waiting beside high, grey-green

waters, undecided skies.

Crawfordjohn for pheasants,

    the Lead Hills for woodcock

alone, rifle at your shoulder,

    painted ladies birthing eggs

on buddleias at your feet,

    that profile; so Robert the Bruce,

turned to the full plumage,

    a red crest, a cataract

skimming the gorse-hill's contour.

You told me night brings

    constellations, Northern Lights,

engorged stars, comet’s tails,

    a porcine moon, and I see you

camped beside the bothy

    in fire-light, jokey with friends,

the flask passed hand to hand,

    talk of golden plovers, snipe -

all the feathers you’ve yet to shoot.

The Luthier

They came to your bedsit in Crouch End:

sound-post cracks, fallen bridges, stiff pegs.

White horsetails hooked to the wall,

shells of spruce and maple on vinyl floors,

in a burnt apron stained with pernambuco

madder-root, you laid purfling

carved a scroll, with chisels, gouges

tamahagane blades mantled in silk.

Your fingers deep-nicked, stitched with lines

of super-glue, arpeggios to test

the perspicuity of sound and more, to flex

your dormant wings, malting in a back row

seat. Some virtuoso at the Wigmore Hall

that winter would call you to re-hair his bow.


Now he loiters river-side, guardian of Mudminnows,

Zope, the Spirlin who lick fly larvae off tight surface

stillness, Asps spawning on slime-rocks. He keeps

a lazy-eye on the ebb and flow of species, smoke-rings

hooping willow branches. Sometimes I am his satellite,

the subaqueous child who stakes maggots on his lure,

plays the mimic, with hair the hue of green food colourant,

dresses cut to patchy rags, rubber marigolds on my feet

catching foil and paper fish on a carpet-lake. Up-close

to the static prickle on screen I rewind VHS folk-tales

until magnetic tape flickers and waves wash his tangled

beard, warp his off-pitch duet with lucifer and the princess.

I know all the words, sing them clueless as to what they mean;

because in magic-lands there’s no need for dictionaries,

the difference between our languages is imaginary.

Alexandra read for the English Tripos at the University of Cambridge. Of Czech descent, she lived in Prague for several years, and subsequently graduated with Distinction from the Master’s in Creative Writing programme at the University of Oxford. Her poems have been published in a range of leading journals. In 2014, Alexandra won the Jane Martin Poetry Prize and was a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition.