Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: 'If My Grandmother Had Had Balls' By Tom Sastry

Tom Sastry
Tom Sastry
If my grandmother had had balls

she would have been a juggler
and joined the circus
where she would have learnt
how to eat fire
and not get burnt.

Instead, she kept house
with the violence
of a perfectionist
and left bruises
and is not missed.

Tom Sastry’s embittered and perfectly rounded skewering of his grandmother is a neat antidote to the compelling, some might say sentimentally-cloying, portraits of conventional expectation. For here, rendered in two simple quintains, is a domestic tyrant who does not spare the rod, an inveterate chastiser who dispenses meticulous violence as a corollary to the maintenance of order.

This woman’s instincts distort Ladybird stereotypes out of recognition. Instead, she is a wicked grandmatriarch of fairytale; if the imagined balls of the poem’s title were to yield testosterone, she would have no need of it, for the bruises she has inflicted are the visible measure of its misplaced symbolic energy.

Sastry’s opening lines wish, in spite of sustained bitterness, for equilibrium, for a sense of proportion wrapped figuratively in a juggler’s skills, which might have prevented the depressing ‘handing on’ of misery. For something, the poet seems to be saying, precipitated the cycle of abuse. That Sastry is prepared to contemplate a dark and distant cause is a testament to the breaking of the chain, and to his own poetic integrity.

‘If my grandmother had had balls’ is taken from The Laureate’s Choice Anthology – Twenty poets chosen by Carol Ann Duffy, published by smith ǀ doorstop

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