The Periodic Table
This isn’t just a grid of everyone you’ve loved
listed by initials: the first kiss,
the woman you should have married,
the man you did. For key elements
– the ones you need to breathe
the very building blocks of life –
jot down a single letter, S or K or B.
You are Mendeleev. Arrange the squares
in interlocking rows to map out
the properties within. A catnapped Wednesday
with Ml shouldering Jv –
from the column of friends you’ve lost.
Consider how the memory of each
burns with the same peculiar lilac flame.
Expand it outwards: work through
a litmus test of second cousins,
the half-lives of exes, all the unrequiteds,
latticed like the brickwork of your favourite home.
Follow its predictive power: hypothesise
tomorrow’s strangers. From this synthetic yearning
you’ll learn to recognise
the exact weight of their smile, it’s degree of spin.
Slot each one into place, the white box,
like a blank face, waiting.
How To Fly Kites On Wordless Days
Find a hill, a view to make your lungs ache,
run with time stitched to your heels
unspooling your cloth-yards of hope
until polka dot ribbons stream behind you.
Do all you can to keep these colours airborne.
Be the friend who’ll chuck the cross hatch
high into a blue tomorrow,
laugh at the swerve of sky,
and roll out picnic rugs from rain clouds.
Ignore those holding a finger up
to taste the air. Grab the ropes of days
and sail the bright pendant of them, far as you dare,
in spite of pylons. Don’t count the starlings
gathering there, like isobars on nearing horizons.
My Mother’s Other Kids
would be summoned when required:
the boy who won the wheelchair marathon,
two with flayed leather jackets and smashed smiles,
one with a neck tattoo. And that girl who clawed
into her arms and chest trying to dig out spiders
underneath her skin. She’d sneak back into the night,
juggling scissors, whisper round the fingers
in my ears all she knew of nightmares.
They hovered at the periphery of our lives
with their worries, sent boxes of Maltesers
at Christmas, had trouble spelling Beryl.
Fully-fleshed they’d crash into a Saturday
afternoon, in Boots or Menzies, with their jobs
and prams and five-year’s worth of getting ons
offered up like spit-spot apples.
My mother grew a little taller then, among
the racks of toothbrushes or puzzle books,
crackled with a smile of satisfaction
I’d yet to understand, lit from within;
while we kept our fidgety ledger —
measuring each time they made her late,
the hours they took, against the weight
of these strange gifts, with the hooded
exactitude of stunted misers.
Emma Simon’s pamphlet, Dragonish, will be published by The Emma Press in March 2017. She has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, including The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, and Writing Motherhood (Seren). She was an active member of Jo Bell’s 52 project, and was selected to take part in the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme in 2015. She lives in London where she also works as a part-time journalist and copywriter.