poems in isolation
CALL CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30, 2020
Music for St Valentine's Day
(Written on St Valentine's Day, 2020)
Here we go. The amps are warming up,
the room goes still and people hope for magic –
ah! – we love to fall in love
and through the most impartial things
we fall in love
and music does it time and time again,
but one-eyed darkness - its hair full of ravens
is peering through the windows of the club,
so hungry, it will swallow every note,
or else the sea comes knocking
like a figure that must drown a sleeping town
because a myth has taught it how to kill,
and still the song’s undressing like a tree,
and you’ll believe the leaves
as if they’re gifts, as if they’re blessings
just for you.
Perhaps they are.
I hope it’s true.
Gary Bills (Ledbury)
The poem was actually written on St Valentine's Day this year, when I felt an unusual level of unease, perhaps without understanding why at the time...Ultimately, I hope the poem is a kind of blessing, reminding us that we will soon be able to gather socially in groups again, as hopeful and loving human beings.
Shut in, locked, barred, bolted, enclosed, confined
outside the sun, the sky, the spring, the swoop
of swifts coming home to eaves, the imagined ease
of a field lush with soft grasses to step on, to roll in
do you like butter? a flower’s golden light on your skin
the daisies, their petals – she loves me – plucked one by one
she loves me not – the puff of dandelion’s crown, its seeds
blowing over the world. No way out of this room?
Clock, that old tyrant, is now overthrown.
The measured beat of wheeled teeth
to which its minions marched is done,
shown for the fiction that it always was.
We now consult the sun, the moon, our needs,
our appetites, to portion out the days
and all is well.
We’ve stopped counting days, instead considering everything one – a beginning, an ending, a certainty without surprises, a single candle on a pink birthday cake. It’s the Queen’s Christmas message at the wrong time of year, but without the food, and with even more repeats on TV. The same sporting fixtures break up the repetitive news, and the weather forecast could be anything since nobody goes outside. We’ve even stopped naming days, an informal today
acting as shorthand for occasional meals, an empty diary, a Zoom meeting with the signal breaking up, the cat coming and going as if he owns the world – which he does since we gave
it up. Naturally, we’ve stopped living in days, focusing instead on our movement between rooms, the distinctions between contesting apps, irregular monitoring of heart rate and
oxygen levels, the measureless sustain on my old electric guitar, the number of teabags in commemorative tins, and the comforting silence of all the telephones we have ever cradled
like injured birds.
Oz Hardwick (York)
Sad Spanish strains
All dissent quiet
Church mice sleeping
Humans creeping through
Papers to walk outside
Papers to walk the dog
Police plundering city blocks
Wayward mask soaking
Bug-eyed forsaken puddles
Gloves, skeleton mud runners
Kisses sitting like canned peaches on
Embraces holding some
Magic clock strike twelve
Poets creak, pastors preach
The abandoned plunging
hollow promise streams
With great introspection
Masses ponder the great dissection
Easter bunnies sleep in the tournesol sheds
The bum rap meds, no one dare touch his soiled hand
Lab rats grin as the mother of all vaccines warms the grand nipple
Resounding orchestral death march
We stay together
Keep our love
Hide in the never heard of
Knit our threads, bake our breads
Sing our songs, read Walt all night long
Nurses, doctor helping hands
Stave off the storm with clothespins
Nature heals, as the wheels roll off the highway
Rest like tires in wilted roadside sands
Michael D. Amitin
(Paris & Colorado)
The way we whisper the word; to say it aloud
confers a truth upon it, gives it a taste in our mouths,
a cross between sorrow and dread; we can work, play and strive,
navigate the storms that batter heart and mind,
but we can’t tolerate this breath of fear that cloaks
the strong, hard ground, like a never ending fall of leaves.
And the old, with their milky eyes, anxious for light,
are the first to be taken. They understand the order of it
but still, they can’t imagine their names carved into stone,
their dust dissolved in earth, their time of gone.
Then the weak, the young, occasionally a fine specimen.
Those who do, pray, secretly bargaining with their gods,
anxious not to vex the fickle, vengeful deities,
and those who don’t, wonder if it’s worth a shot
to hedge all bets, the just-in-case, panic loosened
like a startled horse. But still they celebrate,
sitting behind tight shut windows and doors,
how the dawn breaks and small birds sing their hearts out.
Three years, they haven't been planted. Hidden,
most days, by being on the shoe rack too long
to notice, they are more magnificent
each time a corm falls under my feet.
Eden, no problem. Like so: have
three packs of spring bulbs, tulips
lets say -- parrots, doubles, dwarves, up to you --
forget to put them anywhere near fine
soil and you won’t be disappointed.
No, you’ll be dazzled as an optimistic drunk
by their always-potential splendour: their blush-
green stalks and tapered goblets will be spring
wine any season. Oh, sup, sup, sup.
And extolling the potential bouquet,
hand apples to your love. Welcome to Paradise, darling.
Rebecca Bilkau (Germany)
from instructions for a quiet life , Oversteps 2018
It catches us unaware:
the broken sky blown blue,
the last of the contrails, the last
of our days.
We watch the light
spilling down cracks in the long hill,
cracks in the long hours.
Dragged from the kindness of sleep,
radio news drowning the strange silence,
we mourn our secret landscapes,
the people we felt we knew
but will never meet again:
our ghost worlds
and the ghost spring sliding away,
stealing with it our lives.
Each day, we walk the old paths,
try to find our way back.
The elder's in leaf, blackthorn starry
No one speaks but
there is still song.
Finch and thrush and wren
and flurries of linnets
sweeping the sky
untying the breeze with their calls,
questioning the tilt of the earth
and the shifting hill,
its trees and paths shuddering
Such joyful racket
from everyday birds a-chitter.
Alive and free
they’re speed-dating like
there was no tomorrow.
And see these leaves that push
baby fists through railings?
In a day or two
they’ll spread their fingers, nature
getting on with her business.
Two ducks tag each other
over the rooftops
as if they had escaped a parlour wall
leaving their mate still fixed
above the gasfire.
A jackdaw pokes discarded packaging.
Cars doze in parking bays
like horses put out to grass.
And down the emptied roads, a bus
cruises slow as a ghost ship.
A C Clarke
A Breath of Beauty
A flirtation of clouds collide,
releasing a silent collusion
of vapour seeping into lungs
and we fear we may drown.
Lockdown brings meditation,
limbs splayed in hazy warmth
soft-lined as feline fur
absorbing Dawn’s early gift.
Slowly, I unwrap it
sliding Sellotape from eyes
to unfold a new world.
It drops in my lap like a gem.
I roll facets between fingers,
catch the nuance of light,
the way sunrise unrolls its smile.
How did I miss first blush of day?
I was never a moment-seeker,
thoughts stumbling ahead of feet,
a shadow-tracker counting steps
but today I lift, Time stalled.
I catch the shift of bud to bloom,
the way creamy clusters
of bawling fists unfurl,
and I open myself to receive:
a syncopation of birdsong
strung across the sky,
a tickle of childish laughter
slipping under fences,
a rustle of bugs in roots
hedged in thistle and stump,
a sweep of bruised aubretia
spreading over walls,
a steal of magpies in copper crown
lording over its bounty.
My lungs expand, drink in
a breath of beauty, exhale.
10 aprile 2020
Mi sono fermato appena prima della linea di ferro, un tiro di sasso da casa
e dalla grazia. Oltre, non andare. Il merlo si sta preparando, veliero, sopra
un ciliegio appena distante: attende cose sconosciute, ben note a coloro
che tra noi furono prima, quando dentro la fumata bianca camminavamo.
Appena prima, mi sono fermato. Siamo noi, ora, a recedere dal tempo e i
nostri passi (edera e tarassaco) disfano, l’abito della sposa scivola nel cielo.
Lorenzo Gelmini (Novara)
Decree From Afar
It was the noise, the bustle and stink
of a wet market in Wuhan
that indirectly decreed
that the landlord of The Bull in Linton
should, after pulling the last pint of Thatcher's Gold,
shut his doors for an unknown length of time,
leaving the bar and restaurant,
so used to the clinking of glass,
laughter and babble of background chat,
to yawning emptiness.
His Labrador, lying before the open log fire,
stares with blissful, unknowing content into the flames
while its master, worrying about everything
in the ear-splitting silence,
seeks solace from a double shot of Famous Grouse.
Well, who else is going to drink it now?
Stephen Poole (Kent)
Learn to know this broken, cracked old world anew.
Think of walking city walls in dancing shoes
as dawn turned night all inside out.
Listen now to bells across the treeless town
from All Saints’ tower, and bells on shoes
along the high street on a silver day with staves
and swirling skirts and handkerchiefs,
with Jim on squeezebox, Paddy on the violin.
Hear wrens crack through an eggshell sky
as you stare up at mayflower sprays—petals
changing vicious hawthorn to a bridal wreath.
Recollect hot days of stepping barefoot
onto sand under scimitars of seagulls.
Tread salt-flat undulations left by tides:
the crush and crunch of small whorled shells.
Learn to listen to this broken world anew.
Clasp the soft skin of your newborn
on your breast—savour that sweetness.
Look up! Gaze as chestnut chandeliers
light blazing wicks when leaves uncurl.
Once more, pitch hay, those slippery stalks
of gold, the rhythm of the turn and toss,
the scent of summer haloing your hair.
Watch bluetits build, knowing nests
will not outlast long rains, yet they in hope
will line a dusty gutter with bright moss.
Then praise, praise the peacock butterfly
that spreads its wings on the roof
of the hearse awaiting its load
in shadow, by the church’s door.
Learn to love this broken, cracked old world anew.
Breathe out to see the mist of frost,
and then inhale it all again before
your lungs have turned to lakes,
before the steady throb of your own heart
has pumped its last: has ticked the final beat
of time and left you to eternity.
© Lizzie Ballagher
A Crack In Credibility
Caught sight of a covid cemetery
through a crack in bureaucracy
spied sealed wooden crates lined up
like export containers at the docks
for them not Europe nor Asia but
the higher destination of Valhalla
all tarpaulined by dark soil at
the expense of human sweat
of gladiators in masks and gowns
glad to be working at a job
delighted to be alive when
their infirm parents have gone
to become covid statistics of
those infected now the dead
compiled by a plethora of clerks
far behind smart computers
analysing then projecting
plus or minus standard deviations
as fodder for inept politicians
incapable of decision making
while avoiding focused questions
but proffering lame excuses
yet receiving their full pay for
no furlough in their flawed sight
but soon it will be all over
when the blame games begin
finger pointing and spitting
returned to the back benches
in sight of a covid cemetery
through a crack in credibility.
Tell me why they’re so big, the spans of rainbows,
Shimmery and glowing refractorily,
Thin enough to break like the rubber band you stretch too tightly between your fingers to test fate though hoping it doesn’t snap,
But somehow staying up there so high and not toppling,
With all the resilience of light.
We are all Noahs these days.
Adrift in ships of homes, some sturdy, others improvised,
The earth has quaked beneath us, contagion shimmers unseen in air, floods of anxiety vie with tides of peacefulness.
We are wondering when we‘ll come ashore and what the world will look like when we do.
And again, that impossible rainbow.
Girthing the globe,
Promising the planet is still round and our eyes have retinas reflecting and droplets will function as prisms.
Can it promise us anything more, in its wildly impossible architecture,
Gleaming with more force and more hued happiness than anything else, even sun herself, after that hail pummels.
And then gone again, even as you and I look.
Meditations wander, rest, fade, emerge.
Light is a wave and a particle.
The Book of Covid
Nation shall turn against nation for the last macchiato
and people will slaughter each other with a handshake.
Neighbour will smite neighbour for a dog biscuit
and children will shun playmates over a bar of Snickers.
Yea it shall be so unto the final can of beans
which will cost more than a house
and the rich will skulk in bunkers with bodyguards
who know which side their bread is buttered.
Then neighbour shall turn to neighbour for solace
and townsfolk shall swap coats with each other
and we shall shop and cook for one another.
On Wednesdays and alternate weekends
we shall plant seeds together in cities
knowing that we prepare a bed fit to lie in
and we shall rest in it alongside each other
and survive another season that is no longer recognisable
and it shall be known by another name.
inspired by a photo taken by Amina Ayal
during lockdown 2020
wearing their best behind glass,
as trapped as we are.
Nobody to sell to,
no fashion to keep up with,
price tickets fading.
Beautiful blank eyes
look out from a museum
of how we were, once.