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POETRY IN THE PLAGUE YEAR
Poems written during the Coronavirus Outbreak 2020
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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.
A POETRY SEQUENCE -
A POETRY SEQUENCE -
Sleeping with C19 - - - - - - - - -
-In at the shallow end - Two metres distance
-A whiter shade of pale
-My new friends
-Cremation in a time of lock-down
31st march 2020
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,
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
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
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
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
I took it seriously,
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.