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GHOSTS IN THE DESERT
Emma Lee’s published two previous collections, “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” (Original Plus, 2004) and “Mimicking a Snowdrop” (2014) was runner up in Thynks Press poetry pamphlet competition. Her poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies, including “Heart Shoots” from Indigo Dreams Publishing which included “Two Become One”.
Her short stories have also been published in anthologies, notably “Extended Play” (Elastic Press) and “Gentle Footprints” (Bridgehouse Publishing). “Restoration” was runner-up in Writing Magazine’s Ghost Story Competition and “Fifteen” was runner-up in the Leicester and Leicestershire short story competition and was featured on BBC Radio Leicester’s website.
Emma regularly writes reviews for The Journal, Elsewhere and London Grip magazines and is a blogger-reviewer for Simon & Schuster.
She also posts reviews on her blog: http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.
She has read her work at venues such as Leicester City Football Club, Leicester’s Guildhall, Loughborough University, the Phoenix Artist Club in London and regularly attends Shindig and WORD! in Leicester. Emma has also judged writing competitions including as a filter judge for Leicester Poetry Society’s Open Poetry Competition, Leicester Writers’ Club and Nottingham Writers’ Club competitions and for King Edward VII School in Leicestershire.
Emma was born in South Gloucestershire and now lives in the village of Scraptoft in Leicestershire where she is a Parish Councillor. She squeezes writing poems, stories and reviews around a job as a catalogue copywriter.
Ghosts in the Desert
Indigo Dreams Publishing
138 x 216mm
£8.99 + P&P UK
PUB: June 2015
I woke up and hit a brick wall.
I was living in a trailer with my grandmother.
I was broke and needed education and healthcare,
and if I had to go to war for it
then that was just what I had to do.
I thought I was going to do a good thing.
I didn’t know anything about the politics of it.
I interrogated 40 people, I could count on one hand
the people who had participated in systematic violence.
The rest knew nothing about it.
They were taxi drivers or young farmers.
Some were involved in tribal defence
but that’s not systematic violence.
I thought, this is not a prisoner of war camp.
I signed a contract. I felt I was not entitled
to my opinions. I was worried that I would be
perceived as a coward and a traitor.
I said to myself, this guy’s innocent.
My participation would make me party to war crimes.
I asked him why he had come to Iraq to kill.
Then he asked me why I had come to Iraq to kill.
He said I wasn’t following the teachings of Jesus,
which was pretty ironic.
But I thought he sounded just like me.
I just went to bed and didn’t get up
in time to catch the plane.
All these rich people in my country
sent me to die for oil and my education.
I don’t feel like I want to go back right now.
Papering our/my bedroom
It felt like a borrowed room,
decor mismatched by previous owners,
redecorating was on the ‘to do one day’ list
and now I’ve finally steamed off the paper.
I chose a leaf, based on an embroidery,
with a darkened outline, sheened middle
reflective of the light to look like satin stitch.
While I’d sew, you’d weed and plant,
training soft fruits to fences.
As I paper, the tendrils grow
against the walls, leaving me
refreshing what was our room,
and wondering how to manage
what will never be my garden.
Katrina Goes to New York
Hit New Orleans, then onto New York,
north via St Louis, that was my plan:
follow the jazz trail. Yeah, well, I know
I’m almost 100 years too late
(but timing wasn’t FEMA’s strong point).
Gotta feel the atmosphere where
Jelly Roll Morton, Johnson, Armstrong,
Ellington accompanied Ella
and Billie vocalised “Strange Fruit”:
musicians by heart, ear and instinct.
From Storyville up the Mississippi,
to Cafe Sunset, to Cafe Society,
rounded too soon, spent before New York.
Took two weeks to plan as well... Snag it!
Hit hot five. Thought 14ft
levees would hold 10½ft
of water. Thought the levees
would be interlocked, thought,
as I blew in to the Big Easy,
nearly chop-sueyed the Superdome’s roof,
was taken aback people were in there.
I heard Jabaar Gibson drove a bus
of 100 people to Houston
and may be in trouble for it,
as I twirled to Kentucky,
off course, off target, running down,
near spent, blown out with dehydration.
I let a song go out of my heart.
It’s Manchester, It’s Raining
Film focuses on an incinerator’s chimney,
dark smoke pulses and fades.
Let the camera zoom out
and reveal a tall, grey stack.
Visualise a man, tall, dark hair,
grey shirt, grey/black trousers,
a rumbling, efficient beat,
a melody as persistent as drizzle,
growled vocals jerked
with an epileptic rhythm,
A cloud hangs over me...
as a New Dawn Fades
The stack belongs to a crematorium.
The ashes to a twenty-three year old
father, husband, lover, singer,
who felt he didn’t fulfil any role
but held a mirror that reflected life
as he saw it, as others identified it
pulsed through a dark beat
as ephemeral as sun in Manchester.
Two become One
I’d be trapped: hands in washing up water
gazing over your garden (it was yours, not ours).
You’d stand behind, slip arms around my waist.
The window would reflect a couple back at us.
I feel that presence now, on the edge
of my vision. There’s one less
set of dishes to wash and no reflected couple
in the darkening window.
“Ghosts in the Desert” begins with external ghosts from news of wars, the aftermath of tsunamis, bombings, lives lost through suicide and murder – and how these can haunt survivors. Characters from films can haunt viewers after the credits have rolled, one sequence explores fan fiction and why we need stories to keep certain memories alive. The cover image comes from a poem that sees the marks on the ice as a ghost of the skater’s performance.
“Emma Lee’s poems are finely crafted and truly resonate with their readers. Here is a poet who knows how to balance intimacy and experience with poise and control. This collection encompasses an impressive range of subjects from the Rutland Panther and Daleks to loss and bereavement. These poems are touching, honest and often deeply poignant.”
“Emma Lee’s new poetry collection is vibrant, tough, and delicate in equal measure. The image of ‘words engraved on glass’ (‘A Frosted Line for the Dark to follow’) could stand sentinel for the whole collection, as there is a sense of the world as haunted here: widows shadowed by gone husbands; survivors of calamitous events stained by those who did not survive; people dogged by the political decisions of others.There is a fragility to these poems that also leads one to consider the strength of human spirits. I’d recommend this book both for its beautiful, assured writing, and also because it’s both touching and disturbing … animated and elegiac. Truly, with its sense of the gone world casting skeins through the current one, an accomplished and moving collection.”
A Frosted Line for the Dark to Follow
A movement on my eye’s periphery
and I see not a lake of shifting water
but a skin of ice, tinged blue
under the moon and you lacing skates.
Tracks of your warm-up circuits
create a smoother border
than the natural ragged edge,
defining a rink. You move to the centre.
The darkness deepens.
There’s a hush like a hunter watching prey.
You’re mapping elements,
seeing ice cobwebbed with tracks,
chicken-scratch stitches for a step sequence;
a break for a jump; a nodule
like cuckoo spit on a twig, for a spin;
You’ve not moved yet.
Your mind feeds you the rhythm.
You wait for the right beat,
push off onto your shadow,
on a single edge from a hollowed blade,
you leave a frosted line for the dark
to follow, that will melt when the ice does.
Unless I can remember it
as if it were words engraved on glass.