Three Poems by Penny Boxall



No work for a man, this endless redoing,

this close-work, this stump-work, this crewel. 

Pins are for pinning, for sticking and fixing

the thorax, the eye-brightened wing – 

for forcing through maps, for defining a front.

Pins are for bearing up bones when you’ve smashed

through a fence on a – yes – on a hair-pin.

Pins means her legs and that’s all there is to it.

Needles are bloodletters, drugpushers, Christmas,

the spark between silence and song. Hide needles

in hayricks and think yourself lucky

you’re not the one looking, you’re too busy coaxing

this shapeshifting camel to go where it’s told – 

but boy, above all, you’re not bloody sewing.

Nails are for nailing and shoeing and roofing.

Nails are for boots and the Cross.

Silks are for weddings, for smallclothes, for secrets,

for never-you-minds and not-for-your-eyes.

You’ve no business with silks, with unravelling 

skeins, with spooling, with winding, 

with twist versus floss. 

And man, you’re a piece of work anyway.

Consider your beard, your pièce de résistance,

your tangling mass, your miracle grow.

It is thick with the threads that you’ve spun by yourself,

that you forged though you didn’t know how.


[Note: John Craske (1881-1943) came from a long line of fishermen, but ill health prevented him from going to sea. Instead, he embroidered it.]



King of the Folly


I scoured the Globe, the List and the Gazette

for situations vacant these last months –

the search was fruitless, I had almost quit – 

and then unwontedly I scored this plum,

this golden possibility, this peach.

The masters like the hours I keep (quite none)

and stipulate the levels of decay

to propagate. They like the look – the thought – 

of me, the wildman in the foliage,

a visitor unvisiting, unkempt. 


They built this wilderness: forced gunpowder

to blast from wordless rocks a fitting art,

and summoned springs where nothing welled before.

They scooped a rock out for me, sunk the grass,

erected statues to the living dead;

then bought in chicken bones to rake the ground,

commissioned shells from coasts I’ve never seen

to foster sounds, like small abandoned caves.

I barely look at them, my mind’s eye full

with truths which I’d do better to forget.

I’ll live in dreams, in visions, I’ll invent

more proper observations to report.


I know my place and peer out from the tomb

as Jesus must have done, though I’ve the gift

of time. The curtain’s drawn in front of me,

a sheet of waterfall, concealing and

unveiling – mystifying me to those

who gather to observe, to seek me out.

They’re certain, for their pennyworth, to spot

my picturesque reflection in the dark.

Memento mori realised in flesh:

they’re satisfied, leave tips and then vacate.


I make up rules to break them and am served

my porridge from a skull at their expense.

I’m less a fellow than belief; a piece 

of theatre, scenery, a prop. 


Am I the gardener? No, madame – he’s waged:

a young man from the village I once knew 

but now ignore like ruins of the past.

For sure, I sneak at night sometimes, kill time

among the hops and under beams, scoff pork

(the which my contract certainly forbids);

but I’m a careful occupant of night,

make sure I’m back by dawn, my garments creased

in places my superiors approve,

my whiskers freshly dirtied, eyes set wild.


The mornings are my best times. I awake

to birds and birdsong and the sound of air

that gasps around me, struggling to be heard.

The rain I relish, too; a physical

exertion of God’s immanence, a hint. 

It alters all, releases that strange smell 

– though ‘smell’ is not the word – and pricks the earth

with loveliness: that feeling inside stone, 

an inward pulse like nothing in the world.

It makes my hair stand up. It gives the sense

that everything accomplished is observed,

though I might scurry under stones. I live

in these huge moments of capacity – 

my plot, my furtherment, my little will.





Unbereaved, there’s time to take things in:

the lumbering organ like a gentle beast


and the undertakers’ private nods, small

movements each for something separate.


My friend the priest is doing his best, 

making them a whole. I watch the wall 


of his back, the barrier of the gathered,

the trembling lilies on the coffin.


They begin to sum her up: the stories 

of her laugh, her snort, her wicked sense of fun.


One girl reads a comic rhyme and doesn’t cry

and even though it’s technically bad, the mourners


laugh at the relief. The Mourners, as though 

the characters were drawn always from a pool. 


This set will never congregate 

again, not in this arrangement,


sun blasting through high glass

this bright November day; and me 


in my discreet position should anything go wrong – 

should anything additional and curable go wrong.



Penny Boxall holds an MA with distinction in Creative Writing (Poetry) from UEA. Her collection, Ship of the Line, was published in 2014. She won the 2016 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. In 2017 she will be a Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library and a Hawthornden Fellow. She won first prize in 2016’s Elmet Poetry Competition and second in the 2014 Jane Martin Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in The Sunday TimesRialtoThe Forward Book of Poetry 2015Magma and Mslexia, and is forthcoming in The North.



Image credit: Kaydbe

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