Emma Kemp is from Coventry, where she runs the local Stanza of the Poetry Society. Her work has been published in journals including Transpositions, Ekstasis and The Rialto, as well as in anthologies such as the forthcoming Looking Out, Peering In from The Hedgehog Poetry Press.
A warning to myself
not to entertain your
I buckle on the edge of myself, my
virtue, your passenger seat. Some
unholy unknown, taut between us.
Your skin is ash. The thin blue off
the instrument panel. My cheeks
flushed in the dark, keyed up.
You tell me that you are hard
as regards rejection, given to press
on in the face of defeat. I can
believe that. I can believe you would
impress yourself upon me. I can
believe you leave a mark.
Think back: you smothered your
self in plastic irony. Admit you
are untrue as Coventry blue. Admit
inside that plastic shell you are spring
loaded, a nichrome coil pressed hard
to a twelve-volt socket. On charge, not
blue but blaze red. You must know by
now I am bone dry as summer brush,
as tinder. Would you like me to tear
you out of yourself so you can enjoy
us destroy each other? I wonder. How
much fire it would take to separate
you into your fractions. Not a lot,
my dear, not while I am feeling all
prodigal. I could insist upon you, light
you up, draw down bitumen from
your contempt and naphtha from your
audacity. Perhaps we would get high
on what was left. I imagine that I
can distil you and live happily
alongside some residual fragile
goodness. You say I want better.
I say you want to forget
yourself. I suspect you already have.
I cannot take part in your
remembering. Know this: you do not
want me the way you think you do.
See here. I can unbuckle. I can exit.
I can take my dry bones
elsewhere. I can wish you very well.
A nichrome coil/twelve-volt socket was used
as a cigarette lighter in older cars.
Tell me, love, why we addle
ourselves in our search for truth,
when we know that all there is
is a heap of hastily shorn fleece
from which all the time we are
spinning? Fumble in the wool
and pull some out, rove between
your hands to form loose strands.
I will do the same. We will spin
from these rovings, at times alone,
at times together. And then we knit.
See how what takes form is neither
yours nor mine but defines us?
Forgive my dropped stitches; you may
have dropped a few, too. Please
do not hide yourself away and try to
knit from your own pattern. I am in it.
You have seen that image of Thích Quảng Đức
burning to death at a crossroads in Saigon
and wondered at it. A mixture of knowing
and incomprehension. That the human spirit
can achieve self-mastery to the point
You have longed to sit cross-legged by the vast
ocean, have it lick at you and carry you away;
you have longed to become a symbol. A soup
of sorrow and raging self-pity. That the human spirit
can flare and burn out is a given, but you must
pour water on the altar.
You have stationed yourself on shingle and felt
the insistent pain of every stone. You have waited
for the tide to come in, and the tide has come. Every
tide refusing to send you to the sea floor. The sea
buoys you, dismisses you, light as flotsam
returns you to the shore.
You have felt the pang of the anticlimax. There
is no one here watching; nothing has gathered
around you. Your clothes are heavy with salt
shame, streaming from you as you walk on,
chilled, not shivering. To find what is next. You are
rendered to yourself.
All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb