Three Poems

By Emma Purshouse

10,000 steps

She walks them round the confines of the yard.
Lap…..after lap……after lap……after lap…..
after lap. Day after day. But it’s so hard
she has to admit, keeping it all intact,

and short circuits take their toll.
Lap…..after lap…….after lap……after lap.
Last week her mind struck out on its own
heading north. She plots its progress on a map.

Some days it walks the roads, where cars are few
and far between, and other days it tramps
through muddy fields, takes in scenic views,
or ambles into night as street lamps

fade to starlight. Last Tuesday her mind crossed
another border, stood for a while on the edge
of a loch. She worries it might get lost
amongst highland heather or moorland sedge,

thinks it might be heading for the coast
hankering for scream of gull, curlew’s call
for waves, for harbours, for fishing boats,
for weathered storms, and landfall.

This poem was originally an audio piece commissioned by Multistory as part of their Stories in Isolation project.

The Present

Royal School of Needlework apprentice,
that’s what she was, this woman in Brighton

from whom he’d ordered masks, a box of six,
that’s three for his dad and three for his mum.

Beautiful, washable. Also makes scrubs
she does, knows a bit about protection,

keeping people safe from those germ laden
visits off nurses, those chance infections

from the emergency chiropodists,
or milkmen, folk who drop the shopping off,

and those other unaccounted for risks,
like neighbours’ sneezes, or paperboys’ coughs.

So it’s only the best for him, and them.
And even though he’d never thought to ask

she has taken care, this Brighton woman,
care and tissue paper to wrap each mask,

then post them first class with a thoughtful note,
so by Facetime Friday he can unwind,

sit back, watch their impromptu fashion show
see how one’s a proper match for dad’s tie,

the second the self same blue as mum’s eyes,
view third held up to screen, then fourth, and fifth,

lap up praise, yow’m good to us, ower Bri!,
and not tut when he asks about the sixth,

Yower mother gid it to a nurse who come,
the stiff wench, uz does ‘er dressings,

just nod, and know when all is said and done,
some days all we’ve got is in the giving.

This poem was originally an audio piece commissioned by Multistory as part of their Stories in Isolation project.


It started with tea leaves swirling in a cup,
said she was looking to the future.
When we asked her what she saw,
she mumbled something about typhoons
or typhoid, both of which seemed unlikely
in our part of the world. With the benefit
of hindsight she might have said Typhoo
having used the last of the pyramid bags.

In mad March days we’d find her staring
slack-jawed into mirrors, or at the sky
from off the back step. See that snake?
she’d mutter, her mind shaping three-legged bears,
snarling wolves, other portents of doom
on an anvil of gathering clouds.

It wasn’t long before she was
skimming stones across the neighbours’ pond
reading ripples, then runes, dripping wax
into water, quizzing reflected light.

One evening, one the phone,
she swore she’d seen Jesus in the ashes
of her garden fire, although,
she’d admitted, when pressed,
he’d had little or nothing to say.

By summer
she had become distant,
soul gazing into the eyes
of those she loved. Trying to decipher
the news, make sense of politicians.

In Autumn
she bound smudge sticks
of rosemary and thyme,
lit them and looked for signals
in their cleansing semaphore of smoke,
continued to search,
like all of us,
for an end,
which never seemed to be in sight.

This poem was originally a film commission for Poetry On Loan as part of their National Poetry Day pieces for 2020. The theme was vision.

Emma Purshouse is from the English Black Country.  She is the Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton (2020 – 2022).  To find out more about Emma’s work go to

Photo by Nicole Lovell

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Paul Francis
9 months ago

I love the warmth and humanity of these poems. They don’t minimise the pain involved, but they add light as well as covering the dark.

Helen Deal
Helen Deal
10 months ago

I loved the idea behind The Present, focusing on the mask maker who wrapped the masks in such care and how the six masks were distributed with such thought for the individual receiving – colourful characters! The last line is powerful, and true- ‘some days all we’ve got is in the giving.’

I also really liked the vivid unravelling of the character in 2020 and the black humour – I assumed an elderly woman, but equally it works so well as a metaphor for the experience of all of us right now.

Glad to have been introduced to your poetry via this website.

Emma Purshouse
10 months ago

Thanks for sharing my work 🙂

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