Joanne Key (Crewe, UK)

Helen Ivory: Written in sparer language and with a cooler tone than the previous two transformation poems. ‘The replacement baby / is an empty plate. / No heart. No face.’ I enjoyed not knowing if this is a poem about how alien it can feel to become a parent with a strange new creature in your house, or whether it’s a poem that tunes in to the primal fear that exists around dolls and other human simulacra. Perhaps it is. both.




The replacement baby 

is an empty plate.

No heart. No face.


For now, I must grow 

to love it as it is,

read its blank space,


stay up all night, rocking,

tuned-in to the white noise

of a silent cry.


Bare faced and naked,

the replacement baby

is neither boy nor girl


nor child. No eyes 

mean no tears. As yet

there’s no nappy,


only a patchwork of odds 

and ends, this tapestry 

body of scraps and castoffs.


I chose the hair today -

a fetching shade

of custard yellow, 


and a permanent smile

will be sewn on tomorrow. 

I see freckles in its future. Dresses.


Frankenstein's angel.

It must never find out

where it comes from.


I won’t tell it, although

as it grows older

it’ll no doubt wonder 


about the insatiable hunger.

Why its tummy is full of knots.

Why it’s all thumbs.


A day after she's made

I watch her playing, shaking

the loose threads of herself,


looking at me with blind 

panic in her button eyes. 

Mummy, I fall apart, she says,


tripping over her own stuffing 

that spills out of her side.

There, there, Baby Doll.


What's this fuss over nothing?

Pick yourself up. 

Push it all back in.


Watch me, Little One.

I’ll show you how it’s done.

A couple of stitches and a kiss.


Off you go. You'll live. 








poem © Joanne Key