Eight Minutes

The streets are on fire

with an anger that sits

in the throats of the silenced.

Shattered glass,

pepper spray tongues.

The words contagious

as they lick

along the skin.

A house so white

its fiddler has injected bleach

into the veins of a nation.

Poison behind the masks.

A police officer kneeling

on the neck of a black man.

How much murder can they

expect to get away with?

Restored

How sweet it is

to breathe again

the dawn chorus.

Light swooping

and soaring

as the night

is pulled back

on a morning

feather soft.

Clouds cotton

candy concertos

on a May stage

where the starlings

sing of faraway

solar systems.

The shadow

of fear evaporates,

dew on the grass,

as I return from that

broken silent land

of the sick.

Covid Pneumonia

The man in the bed

across from me

is drowning.

It is not gentle.

He is 92 years old,

used to work on building sites,

plumbing, heating.

He knows what year it is,

the name of the prime minister,

can count backwards from twenty.

He’s unsure of the time of day.

The nurse tells him not to worry,

she’s no idea either.

Locked behind a pane of blue,

the masks hot and claustrophobic.

The needle not going in

and when it does,

the blood not coming out.

I wouldn’t call this coughing,

it sounds as if his lungs

are twisting inside out.

Still he manages to say

his wife has emphysema,

no one to care for her

if he’s not there.

The doctor tells him

we’ll worry about that later.

But with each painful, rasping breath,

I can hear that he is worrying now.

Reflection

You tell me to look

into your eyes

to see the world

held upside down

in a mirror box

that stretches back

through time and space.

That tune you keep humming

to shut out the sadness

that fills your head at night

when you can’t sleep

and small things

lost many years ago

come back to ask why

you didn’t search harder,

longer, claw at the sand

till it released its prisoners.

Even if you can’t remember

her face exactly, how do you know

her eyes aren’t out there in the night

accusing us of the rattle in the door?

The closing in of these same four walls

that have replaced the images

of a world where time travel

wasn’t a basic necessity,

where we could walk freely hand in hand.

Premonition

I was cycling as a child

when dread gripped my handlebars.

Though the traffic was ordinary

and slow, I had in my bones

the conviction something terrible

had happened. I raced home,

rushing in covered in sweat

and panic, to find you in the kitchen

stirring the gravy for dinner.

You paused at my wild eyes,

frozen stock still for a moment,

like a photograph, before I insisted

it was nothing, nothing at all.

You died young of a disease

that spread through the years

till I was surgically slipping

through ice. Scared and alone,

I suddenly remembered,

nearly three decades later,

that moment when I did not understand

what was wrong. The wheels

spinning through a crack in time.

All that we can never know.

Groundhog

I started trying to tell you

about that film where a man

is trapped in the same day

over and over again.

You had so many questions

about time and alarm clocks

and how the weather repeats

but it was cloudy in my mind

because I’d seen it as a teenager

and couldn’t remember

why I’d loved it so.

It turns out it’s about accepting death

and becoming a good person.

We watched it with you

bouncing on the sofa

wanting to know how he got stuck

and when would it ever end?

For nine weeks now we’ve been caught

in this loop of night shivers, chest pain,

mistakes repeated, the regrets

of never having seen this coming.

Comedy turned to something darker,

a rodent scratching in my lungs.