Dark Emily

‘Dark Emily’ is a poem by Michele Leggott published in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021 which can be purchased at Massey University Press and other book retailers. Featured below is the poem read by Michele Leggott (other performances from the 2021 Yearbook can be found at NZ Poetry Shelf) and then reproduced in text.

‘Dark Emily.’ Written and read by Michele Leggott. Recording engineer: Tim Page.


Dark Emily


three dark shapes | see how they got a T from the first initial
fly between ship and mountain | but see also how it could be a J
is this where it started | a name scratched
trail of tears | on a glass plate negative
nails of Christ | or the copy of a copy
my mother still bleeding | transfer of a backward writing hand
from the lost child | Immortelle
sister where are you gone | there can be two and one invisible
and the rough pillow wet | there can be two invisible
with everything left behind | until now
I stared at the vertical mountain | collapsing memory
willing it to lie down | someone calling out
and play with us | a brother or a younger one
three small bodies | look
in care | the scrawled name at the top of the photograph
three dark shapes | how they got a T from the first initial,
between ship and mountain | but see how it could be a J


error pattern

my father taught me | the error pattern
the use of a contrjour frame | as distinctive as fingerprints
tree fern draping left and top edges | once the data is read
canopy pendant with epiphytes | eclipses
or fruiting vines | apparent retrograde motion
the shaded eye looks out | planetary ingresses sidereal time
over or through abundance a tangle | positions for the mean and true nodes of the moon
of leafy ferny budding or seeding | lunar phases and the positions of minor celestial bodies
flora white convolvulus imbricate | such as Chiron
detaining the eye already | uncertainty parameter
flying to and through the gap | eccentricity
top right where headland and bay and wheeling birds | mean anomaly
locate us exactly and there is no holding | argument of
particulars that rush | perihelion
against the light against | apparent magnitude
the day we were there | spectral decoupage


raven’s wing

the world is wide | the Lord Worsley for Sydney
and he is in it somewhere | the curly-headed bellman
black as a raven’s wing | working his passage
watching the flight | was this him
of the bodies of light | was this not him
he might take you | a cold wind down the Grey
for the young May moon my dear | following a profession of thieving

a fiddle and a dancing step | is this him
and there you are | is this not him
the young May moon | curls plastered down
black as a raven’s wing | bringing masks and disguises
bodies of light | to the camp in the bush
watching the flight | an accomplice
in Morna’s grove my dear | but not a murderer

the world is wide | could be
and he is in it somewhere | couldn’t be


jesus lizard

there you were | the Jesus lizard
a promise fully formed | walking on water
on blood red lips | Spy Wednesday Maundy Thursday
the room was full of islands | webbed toes silver coin glass
the hour zero or one | plate negative
I took my pencil and made marks | meniscus
on a white page | scratched by small feet
stems and leaves in your eyes | backwards running
tendrils in mine | to a point of origin
delicate white trumpets | trail of tears
of parachute silk | or tears
extending keel and wing | the mask torn off the day undone
let the white page | suffice now
and the cut-out islands | this one is too young
speak for negative space | this one was never there
promise of red lips | goldfields
working a passage | one side of the ditch
appertaining | or the other
to the very dark my dear | and sinks at around four metres


shepherd’s pipe

dates disappear from his letters | an inquest on the body
Rainbow River Amuri Mount Grey | died in the Asylum this morning
difficult now to remember | a verdict of death from natural causes
mosses orchids an alpine lily | returned
from the back country | general paralysis two months
flourishing by mountain streams and moist gullies | a lunatic
water lily of the shepherds | eclipsed sidereal time abolished
tent under trees camp fire with billy | carrying pain
suspended above orange flames | kept from sleeping by the violent pulling of through-going wires
we know where the snow lies deepest | most of the patients prefer to sleep on the floor
we know where the storm clouds rise | many of the blankets are mere rags
Mount Patriarch Lake Chalice | this one fingers a noiseless pipe
where the mist comes down from the mountain | an attendant plays the concertina
and the treasure that all men prize | a most singular plant rosulatum
Wairau Valley Mount Torlesse | growing among the rocks and dry shingle slopes
comrade so dear | a rosette of dark olive leaves
gone from my sight | in the centre
child of mist and snows | a circle of pure white sweet-scented flowers
remember me | and the birds between shore and mountain


cover of poetry yearbook
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, ed Tracey Slaughter, Massey University Press.