(for my grandmother)

Five diminutive dancers locked in a liminal moment,
Wild applause forever pending…
What willpower lies coiled, unsprung, behind each mute smile?
Bright void, childless orb, poised in pretty postures
A narrow story to tell.
Or is that so?
Perhaps your stone gaze offers more generous territory:
a hidden desire, some burning salt of the earth, a pristine goddess or venal go-getter?
Or are you just as you appear:
thistle-thin, ceremoniously beautiful, like Snow White in her glass casket
Designed to delight, to disarm,
Yet… I cannot deny you disappoint me
Sad tutus like outmoded flowers – roadside pink and white carnations
Mocked by twisting Baroque columns and gilded lacquered curtains
Strangely, you put me in mind of small hungry birds
Secure together on the dusty side table, sharing your spotlight
with a frayed paperback and bedside lamp,
What can we learn of art, of love, from this?
To resist the illusion that all has to be a certain way?

The banal knob on the side of your world instantly moves you to life,
Spectral stage lights spot your routine
and a thin metallic orchestra launches Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty with a riotous upswing
A certain religious resolve comes to mind
Willing yourself into purpose through eventless movement
Delighting at first, then, once again – an emptiness, a snag, a grief
The innate loneliness of dull perfection
A curious trick of the light distorts your shadows
as they swell, hover, then vanish behind you
Lost in time like lapsed souls
You revolve slowly, hypnotically
Your world winds down and ends with me

This poem was highly commended for Poetry Object 2018

Judge's notes:
‘Sicilian Music Box’ is a terrifically atmospheric poem that demonstrates the animating power of the imagination. The poet presents the object in two parts: in the first, we are given an impression of arrested motion, in the music box’s ‘Five diminutive figures’, which are ‘locked’ and ‘poised’ in place. The speaker speculates: ‘What willpower lies coiled, unsprung, behind each mute smile?’
In the second part, this question is answered: the mechanism of the music box is wound and the object springs ‘to life’, awakening like Sleeping Beauty. The resulting scene is fabulously ghostly, and the final line eerie and assured.

~ Bella Li, Judge, Poetry Object 2018
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