Emma Simon – three poems

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.


Emma Simon – four poems

Good Advice is Like Sensible Shoes

but we’ve all spent nights under glitterball stars in red stilettos.
You’ll hurt and slip. But savour the deep bone ache after,
lying in bed alone, feet unfurling.

Flip flops offer no support. They’re giggly friends
who get you drunk, whisper untruths about colleagues,
for this they should be cherished.

Storm into a boardroom in snow shoes. Go barefoot
to a dinner party. Do not apologise.
Cultivate your inner winkle picker.

Wince through the skinned heels. Soon you’ll mend
broken hearts with elastoplasts. It’s not just ballerinas
who dance the impossible.

Warm your fluffiest slippers close to the fire,
near as you dare. Your thoughts are as fish-like as toes –
let them wiggle.

Season Finale
for Alison

I can’t remember now if Dr. Ross ever married
the dark haired nurse.

All I know is I was the first to arrive,
you listened, and poured the wine.

Then listened again, as Alex, then Jo, then Grace
each tucked into the crisps and outrage.

Some things in the Emergency Room are always the same
that rookie medic struggling with a central line,

so it must have been Rose who said
men are such fucking idiots,

and Eleanor who rolled her eyes to show
just how much she’d never liked him.

And by the time the defibrillators shocked
the man who’d had the cardiac arrest

– or possibly the carjacker caught in crossfire –
back to life, I felt a little loved again.

Dr Greene was still going to die,
but from the kitchen I could hear you muttering

bastard bastard over the end credits.


This is the year everyone forgot
to tiptoe round you. No warning look
shot at the kids: don’t play her up
No squeeze on the shoulder.

Six years. If it was a wedding
you’d be unwrapping iron
something wrought and heavy.
But there’s no present. No cards

saying I’m sorry for your loss.
Because it still is. The time between
loops back, dissolves
like surgeons’ stitches on such days.

She’d have remembered though.
Sent flowers or phoned that night,
found some excuse to chat
just to check that you’re alright.

Self-Defence for 14-year olds

We were armed with house keys
ready to jab a windpipe, poke an eye.
Don’t go for the groin Mr Akira warned
too predictable, as he grabbed
an incoming knee, slid his foot forward,
sent Lisa sprawling to the floor.

Taught to make a proper fist,
we’d pivot and kick with the grace
of prima ballerinas in Doc Martens.
Discovered diaphragms, how to expel
a HUH! with such force it could repel
any would-be bag snatcher.

Walk like you’re jujitsu Masters, girls.
We’d pace dark alleys spaced
between gym mats, light as cats.
Turn to face crouched muggers,
– a knife-thin glint of braced teeth –
as they charged with foam cushions.

I’ve not had any student raped
or murdered yet. So we drilled punches,
Tuesdays, in the rec. Something automatic
to fall back on, like French verbs or piano scales.
Marched out in outsized Wham! t-shirts,
confident we’d never let him down.

Emma Simon has had poems published in a number of magazines, including Obsessed With Pipework, Bare Fiction and The Interpreter’s House. She was an active member of Jo Bell’s 52 project, and this year is one of the poets chosen to be mentored as part of the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme. Emma lives in London where she also works as a freelance copywriter.