Emma Lee- New Poetry


My teacher looked at me as if breezeblock
wasn’t a word she knew.
I had pushed my sock down.
It was itching the scabs on my leg.
A breezeblock had fallen
from the stack in the yard.
I splashed cold water on my scraped skin.
My mother said to leave it.
My teacher asked if I’d seen a doctor.
I frowned. We weren’t to bother him.
My teacher held her pendant
and ran it back and forth along its chain.
I wanted to wet a paper towel
and dab it to cool the cuts,
but I’d been taught not
to interrupt an adult’s thinking.
I pushed the other sock down so it matched.
My teacher seemed to have forgotten me.
I crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t
speak to my mother.
I was supposed to keep my cuts hidden
by pulling my socks up.



Yellow was the colour Van Gogh
wanted to drink so happiness
would radiate inside him.
These primroses have waited out
a long winter before emerging.
Drops of sunshine not strong
enough to melt March snow.
They were buried when flakes fell,

each a small bite of cold, something
that might be shrugged off, but
they carried on falling, barb on barb,
leaving small wounds, an invisible
tracery of white scars on pale skin,
a blank layer that smothered.
The primroses stayed in the dark.

The nutrient-grabbing narcissi flowered,
expecting rain to shower praise
but were greeted by damp indifference,
a cold shoulder of crystals.
Once their trumpets had fallen silent,
their attention-seeking frills had faded,
the primroses time their assent.



“I saw a black panther,” a voice on the radio.
A so-called expert repeats it. I change stations.
What other colour would a panther be?
Harborough’s countryside is hedged green fields.
The shadows merge into significance.
The radio is now off. I wanted the throb
of a cello undercut with yearning, not commercial pop.
Cats are adaptable and secretive,
content in their own company and a patch of sun.
Easy to let my imagination run with the suggestion.
I pull into town, run errands, until I’m caught.
It should be a simple decision: a pizza.
There’s your favourite, but I want my choice
if only I knew what that was. A man, who doesn’t
look like you, stares. I’m his way. I grab,
stumble to the checkout and pay, slump into my car,
hands, clumsy with keys, paw at the wheel.
Black is never just black. I don’t remember
my drive home, only that I was alone.
I discover the pizza I snatched wasn’t
your favourite as I put it in the oven.
There’s a shadow where you used to stand.
A smear like silky fur on my cheek.
My heart feels as if it’s been clawed.
Maybe panthers don’t just come in black.


(i.m. GWJ 22/10/1954 – 09/09/14)

Hold your head up; you’ve got a pretty face
Yours: reddened by alcohol in your belly.
You’ve just jolted me from my memory
of a novelist telling me I shouldn’t hide trace
of a published poem just because the period
was for stories. He thought evil lacked lustre,
wanted to look at the person who saw ogres,
even if told in the form of a ballad.

I thought he could see my ghosts, the crippling
self-doubt. His gruff impatience was saved
for those who were lazy, unimpeded.
He knew some writers needed nurturing.
I’m weighed with the loss of a talent
you will not stain by your ugly intent.


About the contributor

Emma Lee was awarded Reviewer of the year in the Saboteur Awards 2019. Her collection Ghosts in The Desert was published by Indigo Dreams. Emma's short stories are also widely published. She was one of the editors for “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”.

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