The Poetry Kit




Poems written during the Coronavirus Outbreak 2020

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 Alwyn Marriage

Guidford, UK


Alwyn Marriage’s eleven books include poetry, fiction and non-fiction; and she is very widely published in magazines, anthologies and on-line. Formerly a university philosophy lecturer, chief executive of two literacy and literature NGOs, editor of a journal and an environmental consultant, she is currently managing editor of Oversteps Books and a research fellow at Surrey University. She gives regular poetry readings and workshops in Britain and in many countries abroad. Her latest poetry collection is In the image: portraits of mediaeval women and her latest novel, The Elder Race. .


Sleeping with C19 In at the shallow end - Two metres distance - A whiter shade of pale -Fearful symmetry - Isolation - My new friends - Appetite - Cremation in a time of lock-down - Weepy -  One minute

31st march 2020


Sleeping with C19


My sister lies awake for half each

night, staring at deepening darkness,

imagining the worst, worrying about

her children, our brother, and even me.

Her tiredness increases day by day

because at night she finds she cannot



Such agonies of insomnia pass me by.

Having been to the gates of hell and back

in the company of this virus for the last

three weeks, I no longer need to fear,

can hardly stay awake, have no option

but meekly to obey my body's imperative,

and sleep.


Our brother in intensive care has now been deep

in medically-induced unconsciousness

for well over a week. He doesn't know

how ill he is, how soon he'd cease to be

if his ventilator was removed. But for now

he is alive, and stands a chance of being healed

in sleep.

23rd April 2020

In at the shallow end


Only a mild dose, they all say,

for the first few days; so

I thought it was probably 'flu


and I'd soon get over it.

Maybe I was a little more

tired than usual, and often


fell asleep during the day.

I didn't realise the relevance

of the fact I couldn't eat,


just thought I wasn't hungry,

that it couldn't possibly harm me

to reject food that didn't appeal.


Then, on day four or five,

the jaws of hell opened

and tried to snap me in.


I have no memory of

the ten days after that,

when I was only just alive.


Now I know that the pattern

of my illness is quite common,

and everyone's recovery is slow.




  5th April 2020

Two metres distance


In order to avoid the risk of meeting

we cross to the pavement on the other side

then turn to smile and wave a friendly greeting


pleased, while observing the isolation law

to share brief understanding with a friend

or stranger whom we've never met before.


Instinctively we know that there's no need to say

that both of us are suffering fear and loss,

both struggling to keep stray germs at bay,


each recognising that a spontaneous smile

in which eyes meet in shared humanity

will keep our spirits lifted for a while.


Despite two metres distance, this is not the end

of human interaction, and when contact is resumed

we'll appreciate different ways to make a friend.


Although we'd never met until today

we'll carry something of each other with us

as we nod once more then continue on our way.



  2nd April 2020


A whiter shade of pale


As my head lay deep in the white cotton

pillow, it was just possible to make out

eyes, nose and mouth; not hair, of course,

because for many years that's been

a whiter shade of pale.


Waking, in pain, as dawn broke,

I watched the darkness melt as light

discovered that the world

was still where it was yesterday,

but a whiter shade of pale.


And now I'm slightly stronger, can walk

all round our garden, resist the claims

of sleep for half the day. But if I push myself

too far, my face returns to the same theme

of a whiter shade of pale.


Where, exactly, has the blood that should be

in my face fled to? I'm not bleeding, haven't suffered

any wounds. So why has the good life-giving glow

of red leaked far away, leaving my face, again,

a whiter shade of pale?



   8th April 2020


Fearful symmetry


In the past we were assured that though

some cats (including a tiger in a New York zoo)

have caught the Covid virus from the human race,

there isn't any risk, even when we cuddle

our feline friends, that they'll infect us too.


But in the latest edict, vets advise  

that we should keep our cats inside

so that stray people cannot stroke them,

leaving traces of corona virus on their fur,

which might then possibly transfer to us.


In our bird-loving household

this news is cause for celebration.

The neighbourhood is rife with cats

who rampage through our garden

and climb the apple tree to kill

defenceless fledglings.


If all these malicious predators,

who in their owners' eyes can do no wrong,

are kept in check for at least a month this spring,

whole bird families will be saved until

they are old enough to fly away.


But all the same, I find it hard

to believe that a person's fingers

lingering over a cat's soft coat

could really send the virus

home to roost with human owners.


And come to think about it,

who do you suppose,

was the last person who chose

to stroke or cuddle a tiger?



  11th April 2020




She's lived in that isolated house

by herself for years, ever since

the day her husband died.


No one normally comes near,

though occasionally she speaks

to the postwoman, or catches

the Tesco delivery man.


But since lock-down, compassion

and friendliness in the nearby village

have brought kindly visitors to her gate

to chat, and inspired others to ring

from time to time, or send regular emails,


so that when I 'phoned this morning

to see how she was, she was able

to admit that she is far less socially isolated

now than she was before.



 15th April 2020


My new friends


the neighbours further up the road

whose names I didn't even know

until they offered to do our shopping,

keep us supplied with food


the strangers on the opposite pavement,

who wave and call a friendly greeting,

wish me well and wouldn't dream

of invading my virus-free space


the atheist friend, whose email challenge

asking where God is in all this mess,

came in a question that felt slightly more

genuine than I would normally have expected


the schoolfriend and her husband

I haven't seen or heard of for many

years, who suddenly took it into their

heads to telephone me today


The supermarket delivery man - oh angel

ensuring that the vulnerable have the food

they need, who didn't even raise an eyebrow

at the inessential chocolate that topped my box


and the birds, bees and butterflies enjoying

a crazy party in my garden, inspiring me

to celebrate with them the peace, the warm

spring sunshine and my joy that life goes on.



  16th April 2020




Gone, swallowed by the virus,

before I even recognised the loss

of appetite as a normal symptom

of corona. Not only did the aromas

drifting up the stairs not tempt me,

but if the food should make it to

my mouth, it was unpleasant,

was immediately rejected.


Equally surprising is the fact

that now I'm ravenous all the time,

long for the next meal, have difficulty

resisting the urge to open the larder door.


What's more, every mouthful tastes

utterly delicious and as I lift quite

ordinary food towards my mouth,

it becomes ambrosia fit for the gods,

my eyes light up and I exclaim

how wonderful it is.


While ill, to my doctor's consternation,

I lost a stone in weight.

Now, as I recover, I am ambivalent

about putting it on again!



 20th April 2020


Cremation in a time of lock-down


Today my brother was cremated.

I followed the service on the service sheet,

listened to the music on Youtube

and wept copious tears.


Sitting beside my lighted candle

and looking at a photograph of him

I was free to cry, without the need

to hide my grief from other members

of the congregation; and yes,

free to swear in fury at the virus

that took him from us.



 13th April 2020




The tear duct is on the bottom eyelid,

poised to moisten the retina and lens

or overspill in runnels down the face


but that's not what it feels like

in this weak, post-viral weepiness

as water gathers to respond to pain.


Instead, the pressure of the whole

world's misery is building up behind

my eyes waiting for relief to flow.


That's not surprising in my current

fragile state, but doesn't explain

why goodness, beauty, even comedy


should sometimes have the same effect,

threatening to burst the dam, so that all

the force of collected water can overflow.



 28th April 2020


One minute


I took it seriously,

concentrated deeply

on the hundred or more

brave health workers who

have lost their lives to Corvid.


As I thought about them in silence,

tears welled up even though

I didn't know them personally;

but if I'm honest, I must admit

it didn't cost me anything more,

claimed a bare minute of my time before

I returned to my desk and re-immersed

myself in the safety of work.


How on earth can I honour

such professionalism and

self-sacrifice? My sympathy,

my tears, even my deep respect

will never bring them back, or even

protect those who are battling

to save other lives now.