Neu! Post-Truth Poetics DAY EIGHTEEN – Emma Lee

The Job-Stealing Ghosts

Tell me about your burning ambition to be a fruit-picker,
to spend days out bending, picking, standing, until
your rickety bus ride to a shared bedsit where you slump
in a sleeping bag on the floor, too tired to cook,
bones aching too much to allow you to sleep.

Tell me about the years you spent studying medicine,
until your hospital was bombed and you finally fled
to a zero hours contract, where you get 15 minutes to wake,
wash, dress, breakfast and reassure a client who can’t
remember your name and shrinks from the colour of your skin

Tell me how you wanted to become crepuscular,
cleaning before workers arrive or after they’ve gone home.
Cleaning for a company who needs to cut wages and meet
the same standards for the tender they need to win
to keep you working with less equipment and smaller measures.

Tell me how you use the ATM, the self-service tills,
the help-yourself drinks dispensers, vending machines,
make connections on a smart phone,
and don’t see that its a computer serving you
not a person, not an undocumented ghost.

Tell me about those employers who choose not
to employ you in an interesting, fulfilling career
with progression, security and a generous salary,
but instead employ people who want a job
and understand doing it is their part of the contract.

Tell me about those employers who hear
about what you want but not what you can offer,
what you won’t do but not what you will do,
who see you as an unproven liability,
who know their own jobs rely on driving down costs.


Emma Lee‘s recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She was co-editor for Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at


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