Emma Lee: Ghosts in the Desert

In this, the first of our High Window previews for 2018, we are pleased to highlight the poetry of Emma Lee.  We first published a selection of Emma’s poems in THW 2: June 1, 2016   and were immediately impressed by them.  We will be publishing a set of three more in our spring issue. Emma has also been a frequent  reviewer for the High Window. The poems featured here are  taken from Emma’s collection, Ghosts in the Desert, copies of which can be purchased here: http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/emma-lee/4589588247.


Emma’s poems speak for themselves, but here are some of her thoughts on them:

Ghosts in the Desert contains ghosts, not all of them mine and not all of them conventional ghosts of people who have passed away. One sequence looks at the idea that characters from stories can haunt people long after a film or book has been finished. ‘A Frosted Line for the Dark to Follow’ looks at the marks on ice left by a figure skater as a ghost of the skater’s performance. ‘Deserted Voices’ was inspired by printed interviews with American soldiers on return from Afghanistan. In ‘Stars Fade, Memories Linger’ an over-looked TV star ghosts a tribute paid to another actor – the poem can be split by separating the bold text. ‘What they didn’t take’ captures a widow’s defiance after a burglary.

Ghosts in the Desert was a working title that emerged from putting together the poems that make the collection. It doesn’t have a title poem and, when I submitted the manuscript,  the publisher initially suggested changing it so the collection had a title poem. As I organised the publisher’s suggestions into a preferential order, the publisher decided the working title had grown on them and proved a better option. However, for the front cover, the publisher selected an image which captures ‘A Frosted Line for the Dark to Follow.’


Emma blogs  blogs at www.emmalee1.wordpress.com.


Emma Lee: Four poems from Ghosts in the Desert

Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She has also  co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge ( Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester  (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She is President of Leicester Writers’ Club, on the Steering Group for the Leicester Writers’ Showcase and has performed her work at Leicester City Football Club and the Poetry Cafe in London amongst other venues.



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.


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 farms.

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.


Why has Larry Hagman not been honoured/remembered tonight? True television giant. #Emmys Piers Morgan 22/9/13

The day Cory died was simply another Saturday.
A weekend’s pause from the day job watching a small screen;
crammed with a giant mound of chores, dreaming life might
offer something – a genie with honeyed Texan tones
to be passionate about. A licence to be someone else
having fun playing the villain, fond of a good time,
too fluid to settle, a sports jock, discovering he could sing.
A life as vibrant as a rainbow of oil,
but couldn’t dodge a cancerous grip, addiction.
a peaceful Thanksgiving passing,
signalled a summer night’s death.
The dazzle fades into the long dark.


They took the white goods, easy to sell,
easy to replace. They found my jewellery,
but took nothing. Riffled through,
not recognising what they saw.
My jet drop earrings left intact, untouched.
A reminder of our first proper date
where your eyes didn’t stray from the woman
about to spend the rest of your life with you
and when I wear them, I’m not in mourning.


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