Kathryn Smith



This child is alone in the room of colours, patterns

And half-cleared party debris. She spins, first slow,

Then fast; eyes shut and arms outstretched.


Stopping, she staggers, opens her eyes and fixes

On a point in the orange and green zigzag space

Her head, like a shaken snow globe, settles.


The winter light barely reaches the corners of the room.

Knots of newspaper lie twisted in the hearth;

Firelighters of words and stories on cold marble.


The teak cabinet is open and red-coated men on horseback

Chase endlessly round six matching glasses.

Empty bottles stand with sugar crusted tops.


The child licks candied lemon and glace cherries.

She finds peanuts and crumbs in souvenir bowls;

Sees her father’s jacket hanging, dog tooth and rough to the cheek.


Her prize is the bakelite cigarette box, a black obelisk

Where the ballerina spins to a Viennese Waltz.

And when the door shuts there is silence.


The Stuffed man


Umbrella down the cellar

There I saw a naked fella…..

1903 – unknown


From the handles of brooms, a hoe and a rake,

I make the legs, spine and cross braces of pelvis and clavicle.

I chop, sand and bind them with garden twine

Drizzled with craft glue; the tendon and glue-gristle.


The stiff, awkward legs are trouble so I yank the bone frame

Down the table and hack them off to knee height,

Rejoining the long bones with fancy hinges,

Oiled and squeak-free they dangle over the drop-leaf.


Around the leg spindles I wrap long sheet strips over

Sculpted muscle shapes of cushion wadding and cotton wool.

I swaddle and pinch with a final layer of flannelette,

His thighs buddy-wrapped in Elastoplast.


His ass is a plump velvet scatter cushion, puckered

To a central button, lashed to the cross frame and blanket-stitched.

His feet are haricot-filled bed socks hanging

Heavily and splayed with dropsy.


A turtle-neck stretches over the half-man frame,

Over pillows bound and stitched to spine and sternum either side.

Stuffed sleeves hold on to hands of rice-filled marigolds.

Unified, packed, nipped and trussed. 


Now upright as a jack staff, he is in pressed pinstripes,

Shirt, tie and dead men’s shoes of shiny coal.

He has a growing potency and I feel it as

Rice and rubber brush against me.


We dance now, close, a stuffed sphere resting on my shoulder.

His brittle mask chafes me as he presses his body

Against smooth sateen and he leans in as we

Move and sway with quickening breath


But at once I see his face, smirking, judging and feel the

Contemptuous thud of rice as I pull his arms around me.

I thrash him to the ground – a pick-up-sticks man;

Nothing but a Jack O’ Lantern.


©2015 Kathryn Smith | Beautility and The Stuffed Man won second and highly commended prizes in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (February 2015)


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