“They say we made it up” and other poems by Wes Lee


They don’t do it anymore,
breathe into the mouth to save.

We had learnt it reluctantly,
lined up beside a recumbent dummy,

waiting to take our turn to kneel at that mouth.
The simplest things disturb –

at night when the fluoros shut off and the cover is pulled,
the tiles swabbed – there it lies open,

not even a ventriloquist’s dummy
is so exposed.



You always thought crazy
was a defection of the will,
you’d been in that place holding on
for months, and you managed
(to stay on this side),
so you made up your mind
that people choose crazy,
but that was just one time
in your life
you thought was the worst,
didn’t know
the worst comes like waves
and you are
Mickey Mouse
and you are the brimming bucket
the mop
the stone floor
the castle with its interior
arches, and the wizard.
And your sore arms
get sore
then relax
(by your sides)
and sore
then relax
and sore
then relax.
And sore
you are rubbed with Wintergreen
with eyes
with understanding
you aren’t.



And I wonder at those two distinct levels:
fresh water meeting salt water in the cave.

The dark of dreaming and the further deeper dark.
Your shape under the duvet; a book

falling at some point from your hand. Did you feel a click
like an elevator coming to its stop, and

there the floor, there the opening, there the greater
dark that some keep believing is light? I am stuck here

in this moment. The duvet and the dream. Sleep
then something else. I want to know if you

struggled? If I could look close would I detect a twitch
of muscle? I am stuck here feeling the clicks.

The elevator. Trying to translate in language
the last seconds of your heart.


They say we made it up

and I ask Why separate ourselves
from the herd? Why divide?

Paint ourselves outcast white and wait
to be picked off.

Why would we make ourselves the wolf
with one blue eye to unnerve

enough to snarl and lash? Hiss out
into the dark of the forest.



I suppose I used to have the youthful dream of many
mourners. Of a packed house. Now this numb state feels
like the way I was when I slipped into teenage
depression and my mother said: You’d move, move…
move… You’d move fast if a great big tyrannosaur came
barging through.

And I often think of those children in Jurassic Park
when you and I are eating. The children with jelly in
their mouths and ice cream, smiling with full mouths
across the dinner table; chewing and smiling. The jelly
wobbling on the spoon as the velociraptor is spied at the
murky edge of the room. And the jelly wobbles and
wobbles and the children know.


“They say we made it up” and other poems © Wes Lee


Wes Lee was born and raised in Lancashire and now lives in New Zealand. Her poetry has been published in magazines such as The Stinging Fly, New Writing Scotland, Poetry London, The London Magazine, The Stony Thursday Book, Banshee, among others. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including, The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award; The Short Fiction Prize (University of Plymouth Press); The Over the Edge New Writer of the Year, in Galway. Most recently she was selected by Eileen Myles as a finalist for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2018, and awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019. Her latest collection By the Lapels was launched in 2019 by Steele Roberts Aotearoa, in Wellington. Her previous collections include a pamphlet Body, Remember launched in 2017 by Eyewear Publishing in London as part of The Lorgnette Series; Shooting Gallery (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2016). And a chapbook of short fiction Cowboy Genes (Grist Books, University of Huddersfield Press, 2014).