Emma Lee

Flowered Symbols


At first glance, it’s underwhelming:
the black waters of heaven
with a silvered splash like a carp,
chrysanthemum petals
visible to a second, studied gaze
at this practical, modest vase.
Yet it would make an excellent wedding gift.

The bridal bouquet would overwhelm it,
shade the fish of wealth,
symbol of children to come
sheltered by the chrysanthemum’s longevity.
While she and her groom allow the bedside lamp’s wick
to burn down to a lotus flower,
unaware of their fortune.

A candle wick burnt to a flowery shape was thought to be a good omen.
poem based on a Blackware Vase, China Song Dynasty (AD960-1279) in the Ashmolean


A pair of boots, lightly worn

I remember my first pair of non-hired figure skates,
a white pair softened by their previous owner.
and worn with a dress that once belonged
to a skater who’d qualified for the Olympics.

I remember teaching seven year old children
how to program a turtle to create their own initials
without pay during my school holidays, correcting
the mis-steps their class teacher, my mother, hadn’t noticed.


I remember my mother’s fury at a teaching assistant
who comforted my brother after a playground fall,
resulting in a grazed knee and damaged pride,
unsure of why she was angry and not daring to ask.

I remember the same teaching assistant ‘borrowing’ me
to ‘help’ with the school newsletter she typed
while I sat in the school’s TV room and watched
her recording of the World Figure Skating Championships,
remembering the feel of my blades against ice.


A carer’s last wish

She walks past a lottery ticket damp with disappointment,
a polystyrene burger wrap languishing where it was discarded,
the overnight darkness of mushrooms like mould on the lawn,
an analogue clock no longer wound as she passes
the papery weight of unpaid bills dampening the dust
unroused by sunlight. She mentally wishes him
free of pain and worries about the gas bill
as the bedroom carpet mutes her footsteps
She sees the stealth of a cat keeping birds at bay
outside the window, the still sheet in thick summer air.
The chill absence of condensation on a purse mirror
in that time-suspended moment before panic
draws its breath and inflates her into calling an ambulance.


© Emma Lee