Twice a year we would visit the west coast cousins. 
Each time, the hand-me-downs were already waiting,  
neatly piled in a laundry bag in the lobby –  

ClothKits frocks with big collars, heavy burgundy cable knits, 
and kilts in muddy colours that needed taking up. 
The adults sat at the kitchen table, 
drinking tea from the good china and smoking – 
Aunt Morag with her scarlet lips and glossy helmet hair,  
my mother bare-faced and upright in her chair. 
There were french fancies on paper doilies 
and then into the garden to play with the dog. 
They kept Lara tied on a long thick rope. 
She was, I knew, a Great Dane, but the cousins said,  

Today, she is your pony, and lifted me onto her back. 
The cousins had green eyes and freckles 
and when they threw their heads back and laughed,  
their teeth were sharp like a pike’s and their hair glowed. 
Lara’s coat was slippery and itchy 
and when I clutched my arms around her neck  

I could feel her heart beating. I was heavy, 
I knew – too heavy and hurting her and my face  
burned. Lara’s ears were pointy, 
as if she was always listening for something 
just out of reach. Her eyes were dark 
and reproachful, as if she was both sorry to see me  

and sorry to see me go. 

by Jen Emery

Jen Emery thinks, writes and speaks about work and life in all its messy beauty. She has a day job in the City of London and coaches, teaches and writes business books. She also writes poetry. Her work has been published in magazines including Atrium, Brittle Star and The Interpreter’s House, and her short story in verse was published by Atmosphere Press. She lives with her family in London and Edinburgh and much prefers sonnets to spreadsheets!