Questions is a collaboration by Lucy Kempton and Joe Hyam. Poems are based on questions drawn from an agreed starting question and formed by answers, which contain and inspire the next questions. In response to Lucy's first question, Joe kicks off. This follows our earlier work in Compasses, archived here, where Lucy's photographs illustrate Joe's series of 50 sonnets under the title Handbook for Explorers.

Monday 1 March 2010

What's in the box?

Perhaps if I open it, let me see... Crack!
Leering and swaying and squeaking with glee
spiked on a bedspring, out will jump Jack.

Or is there a cat there, fluidly
slipping out, purring and curving - unless
it's dead, poisoned and rigid? Or might there be

a dog which has learned to be helpless
shuttled and shocked, carefully tortured
by a peer-reviewed high-priest of happiness?

If I turned out the box, perhaps I could
still find hope there, a rattling, lone
remainder, a tarnished coin, good

currency, tender still, though very much down
in value. But soft. You've already told
of a perfume of citrus-peel, blown

from the lands of spices, of lemon trees, old,
brittle, but fragrant still, contained inside bright
glossy red lacquer patterned with gold,

a tiny, dried wonder. And something so slight
can, for a moment, by alchemical grace
cast out all evils, put them to flight.

So cup your hands round it, and hold it to your face...
Where would you be, if not in this place?