When Your Name’s Not Smith
While he writes I imagine taking his form
and folding it into a paper boat, perhaps filling
his letter tray with water from the cooler
to see if the boat floats or sinks, if ink will
seep from paper to water and colour it.
Family legend has it that some great, great
relative decided to run to the sea, away
from weaving or sheep farming. His name
was a barrier so he changed it to fit in.
He didn’t think some distant niece would end
up standing in a bank watching a teller fill
out a form with a name I said I’d spell, but
he asserted he knew how to spell it.
His biro skims the page while I jam my hands
into my pockets in case they follow
my desire to snatch the artificial daisy
from its plastic vase, tear off each petal,
he knows my name, he knows it not.
He asks me to sign his form. I tell him
I can’t: my name is not spelt correctly.
Tableau with Gilt
(sculptures Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire)
Giant, gold-painted, scalloped shells are balanced
on the heads of two kneeling men wearing tunics
topped in red, fading to white and edged in a gold band.
Each has a band at his neck chained to a thick anklet.
Their feet overlap gilded plinths. They watch each other,
like panthers in a staring match for territory, anxious
not to be the first to tire. The sculptor has drawn
your attention to his skill at muscle definition,
his finely-judged proportions, the way the light
emphasises the buffed surfaces. For a moment he succeeds.
But you step back, see the pair are purposely positioned
to be seen by visiting politicians and civil servants
in a stately home restored by wealth stripped
from the people the sculptor used as unpaid models.
Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, UK 2015), she co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge, (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com. Twitter @Emma_Lee1