The Mutoscope

Double Trouble, The Ghost Café, Late at Night
in the Bedroom: each Mutoscope tells its story
to whoever steps right up, drops a penny in its slot

and cranks the handle. Mimicking decency,
the poster shows a solid Victorian gentlewoman
stooping to its glass as though sniffing narcissi

in a window box, her hat a fountain.
A World of Moving Pictures, Very Popular
in Public Places, it is, in fact, an intimate machine

whose jittery flickerings of marital war,
a monkey on a bicycle, or a lady being undressed
from a through-the-keyhole, what-the-butler-saw

perspective, no one else can watch
at the same time. Sir or Madam, yours is the hand
that squares the frame, undoes the catch

at the top of the reel and sets eight hundred
separate photographs tumbling into blackness
against a brown-paper background

but showing you each shot before they vanish.
Only for you do the two mute girls on stage
who falter at first, erratic as static

in the synaptic gap between each image,
imperceptibly jolt to life –
grinning, tap-dancing, morphing into footage,

their arms like immaculate pistons, their legs like knives…
It lasts a minute, their having-been-written onto light.


Sinead Morrissey


Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She is the author of four poetry collections with a fifth, 'Parallax', due in September 2013. The Mutoscope will be published in The Journal of Irish Studies in Toyko and in Parallax. Her awards include the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Irish Times/Poetry Now Award,first prize in the UK National Poetry Competition and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Her most recent collection, 'Through the Square Window', was shortlisted for both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best Collection and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She lectures in creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen’s University, Belfast.