Blackbox Manifold

Issue 13: Steve Sawyer


After my life I find myself in Dagenham

and Redbridge, forcing entry into Marks

and Spencer’s: this is a giant slice

of cooked ham I said, recreating myself,

making trousers, curing bacon,

translating black smoke rising in circles,

comparing ox-hearts to full-lips,

language to the song of a missal thrush,

the smell of a coffee pot. That’s a bit

of thread bare carpet; this, the smell

of vinegarred fish; here’s some

Sailing Bye before the shipping forecast.

After my life I find myself ascending

on the assisted chin-dip to a bass line

that mangle the brain endings, a blurr

of birdseed lyrics: ‘you are, you are

reachin’… there’s a fire, a fire catchin…’

Hear Joan of Arc say all bad metaphors

are immortal; the soft roar of swift air,

silence in the buildings, sobbing

of the man inside the burning woman

as if we’re never, merely, who we are.

What do you think of that Mr Death?

Is the one who was once me

The Singing Molecatcher of Pig Island?

I’m spending my death in Large Print

Romance: spines of silent talking books,

the click of a purse clasp, a faint scent

of urine, laughter and voices

that must have a source. This, the room

where souls seek the bodies they crave:

a librarian’s gypsum fingers, shelving

Love in Stormcrow Castle; Mrs Green

of Fishamble Street, retaining water

and an albino vampire on a vinyl sofa.

Don’t take me completely: don’t leave me!

After my life I returned to the woman

who used to serve but now she drinks

in the Sheaf View Inn; lives with a cocker

spaniel, a bichon frisé and a man.

I find myself noticing small details:

the earth accelerates, passes onions, oranges,

scaffolding; meets oncoming streaks

of pale-blue gold in the surface water.

I’m in love with movement: greens, ambers,

Love and Sandwiches, Cakes and Steel,

bridge walls that sweat oil and ochres,

people whose stare returns to itself through

bus-lit reflections of a stranger; cantaloupes,

betting shops, baths on the side walk;

the woman beside me, smiling as she talks

for the unseen fox and neighbourhood stars,

living for a second time.

Draft for the Contemporary Love Poem

                                            after Tadeusz Różewicz

You’ve got to be quick

to describe a horse,

within seconds

it becomes another horse

or an unknown painter’s horse

and then its human face appears;

it finds time for sarcasm,

places a rose at your feet.

A hand can be described

through a palm and fingers

that becomes a fist, a mouth

you have kissed by a tree

that has no final shape,

in it are twisting distances,

a trust in water

and the sun’s first ray.

In the past, love poems

described mossiness,

a rector’s existential doubt,

a dove-keeper’s eternal pant,

or the other way round.

Eyelids are described

through tree roots. Whiteness

by a gable end silhouette

jacketed in scaffolding,

a minor chord of roosting birds

on the telegraph wires.

A spring like description of love

is a bud of green thought

that questions the meaning

of flowering trees.

The ankles and thighs

of Juliet Ms Muse, surrender

an upside-down hold.

Her shoulder folding

on stage, bearing the weight

of her arcing spine

as if she’s tilting out

of the Horsehead Nebula

of her own mind’s fire:

an apt description

of a crucified passion

if you know nothing

about dancing pole.

A practical description of love

is the discernible hands

of an ancestor, under-coating

white shutters, high ceilings

and sash windows.

A telling description

of the swelling breast

includes the solid planting

of the forward hooves.

I wheel him away:

he bears me full circle

head jerking, neck a tower

of exalted salt.

I who am alive, begin again

stuck on the pin of a word,

wanting to embrace the dark

like a mouth in a wound,

inhale the fetid vapours

till my cheeks swell, nostrils

dilate and lips compress.

I hardly know how to undress.

Some things take you closer

to your life. The talent

and luck to describe a horse

that leaps out of a poem

to bear you on. Eyes that fill

underwater worlds, raise you

to the surface, resuscitate

your soul. The gap between

teeth and tongue, a hand

in the dark, shadow without

shadow, light without light.

A body describing the desire

of a body in a thousand forests

of sleep. Juliet Ms Muse,

more than herself and the illness

of hope, in each shift

of emphasis and feat of strength.

You have to be quick

to describe a cloud,

within seconds

it becomes bread, a sky without

sky; nuzzling elephants

drunk on sweet marula fruit,

collapsed in a heap.

A crackle of rain, a voice

down the line…

telling you to buy birdseed,

asking you if you’re eating.

The black bird in my cypress

who listens, sings to an echo

that questions an echo

of the contemporary love poem.

Orgreave Mass Picnic

for the 30-year anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave


I’m walking with friends

between acoustic tent and main stage,

in lush fields, where the battle

of Orgreave took place.

Remember who’s drawing warships

at the back of the class

while the ‘A’ kids learn maths;

cast as the turnspit ‘jailer’

of Antonio, wearing sackcloth

in the service of Shylock;

a metallic silver-painted sword

for a part without a word.

You could confuse Zulu drum

-beats of truncheons on shields

with the echo of speakers

in these fields: a Sex Pistols’

tribute band, scissor-kicking

in drainpipe black, a bearded man

in a red t-shirt: Keep Calm

and Read Marx.


Sitting with miners in Beighton Welfare

waiting for the picket call

then hands are braced

against van roofs as we hurtle

in convoy across barrens

like a mace dented breastplate

under a faint rind of moon.

A light floats to the surface - blinks,

a string-vested man sings

at a frosted bathroom window:

I left my heart in San Francisco.

Kiveton Park our destination,

where a gas explosion kills nine men,

miners build the listed baths

and the pit yard sings to the village

over the diverted tannoy: 

San Quentin, you've been livin' hell

to me…Goodnight Sweetie…at 58,

Nettleham Road... Goodnight Sweetie

A nacreous arc bisects our route,

down to third, a bandaged tree,

second, Laundry Works,

missing letters & Sons,

Butchers Entrance, time

out of joint, back up to third -

and a backward glance:

child ghosts, a grim reaper,

painted on boarded up windows;

a cooker lit by its own irony

on forecourt ruins

and we’re flying again

in the lung-dust darkness.

The colliery’s beaming eyes clock

you like a head wound, frame

versions of winding towers,

and pit baths, silhouette coppers

with dogs, patrolling the grounds

like hired guns from out of town.

Kettled and pushing back, a flask

flying: a single scorpion shadow

in the marsh window light

of a colliery bus as it crosses the line.



This is a reconstruction:

A cattle baron refused the free run

of ploughed land, hires a gunfighter

as mean as a scabbard with eyes

to clear the homesteaders off.

A beleaguered farmer slogs

through the wagon-rutted mud,

reaches the saloon porch where

the assassin, Frank Wilson, smile

drawn tight as a vulture’s talons,

closes the angle on higher ground.

One Arthur Scargill

There’s only One Arthur Scargill

A shirtless kid leaps over flowers

in neighbourhood gardens,

mounted police galloping full-tilt

tearing them up, behead the sun.



People I haven’t seen since the strike

greeting me on the battle site

where the miners fought to stop

the flow of coal in and out

of the now absent coking plants.

Compere, Attila-the-Stockbroker

rises above a failed microphone,

leaps off-stage into the crowd to bray

and snort his narrative poem

of class lore home. A man, naked

from the waist up, lying face down

and left for dead. A woman sitting

in a deck chair picking up a stitch.



Women of the communal kitchen

insist I eat a free dinner

though I’m not a miner on strike.

Mums, Dads and kids, playing

with tennis ball and dustbin lid

on summer evenings. You know

she sold her wedding ring to pay

the lecky bill? Can you hear

the pit yard sing: Ol’ Man River?

Pensioners legless on elderflower

falling over sequestered pews

along the candlelit terraces

at the anti-Princess Di festivities.

Can you hear the pit yard sing?

And did those feet in ancient times… 

Three hours baby-sitting

for a sack of beetroot. Eight pints

of homebrew for fixing an engine.

Sheer weight of numbers

beating off bailiffs. Can you hear

the pit yard sing: The miners united,

will never be defeated?



I return to myself as the feet

of this kid, the hands of that kid, 

others who are myself, running

for the ball in a shell suit of fog.

A bear chases the Avon Lady

Wanna buy a chamois leather?

The Avon Lady chases a bear  

laughter in the cage ascending

at 25 feet per second, stomachs

leaping as the sun sets fire

to the tongues of those who harvest

the hard fruit of the deep earth,

inseparable from saltpetre, water,

and forebears, who are themselves.

Can you hear the pit yard sing?

We’re sold, solid as a rock.

That way of hanging out, power

of the untamed thought

between chimney pots, chinks

of curtain light, bits of motor bike,

a mother’s valium lips, thinking

without banister rails. A first love,

a mirage’s sister, receding

as I approach her Bacall-glam eyes,

and braced front teeth, who

always got a speaking part.

Her mind I knew like the Sea

of Tranquillity, tried to find

one Sunday, amidst verandas

of blue hydrangeas; the absences

of abstract sculptures, a Pekinese

cradled in arms, garden walls

of slab-cut lumber; a Union Jack;

the Spion Kop chanting of a train,

calling me back, calling me back.



Pears and carnation milk for tea

Harry Secombe’s flaccid grin

on Songs of Praise

but my dad said he could sing –

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

streets you enter your life in, meet

Shane, the kid who loves

the eponymous western, starring

Alan Ladd; goes to his surface job

at the colliery in his Stetson hat

with spurs strapped on his boots –

shepherded and supported

by the miners. Tea breaks, you

find him perfecting his quick draw,

six-gun hanging from his holster,

girlfriend with flask and snap.


A foreman told to address the problem

suggests ‘the lass’ take herself off –

Cook for yah man at ’ome.

Shane centres his balance,

draws on his irons, squeezes

the trigger, releasing the hammer

on a roll of percussion caps:

Git yah hands off a ma’ woman

a perfect Missouri drawl.



Children release balloons

in front of the main stage.

All the time of light

and a hiss of anger remain

in the green apple I bite into.

Pit-boot flush in stirrup-cup, Shane

hoists himself up. A sparrow hawk

circles the listed baths. His woman

holding and held, swinging aboard

to laughter and applause of admin

and canteen. I canter on my heart.

Steve Sawyer completed an M.A. in Creative Writing at Manchester University in 2009 and has had poems published in a number of magazines.