Clapping

I offer up this prayer, not so much to God,

as to the banging of saucepans

in a country lane. You wacking so hard

the wooden spoon cracks and a small piece

flies into the road. Last week it was so dark

we could only see the shadow of my neighbour

drumming and it seemed for a moment

there was only her light in the doorway

in the whole of the universe. But this evening

the clocks have moved on despite our paralysis.

The sky holds the last of the dusk,

safe as a promise, and when we pause for breath,

we can still hear the echo of clattering

in the distance, as out there, up the road,

in the village, people are giving thanks.

This thanks carries on beating into the night,

into the towns and the cities and the hospitals

where the heart of all that we are is working

endless, unprotected shifts to save all of us

who are not yet ready to say goodbye.

Going Back

My head over the bowl

breathing menthol

like I was a child again.

Tired, tight lungs that push

the trees away but can hear

concertos of birds as they carousel

through a sky layered with clouds

speaking of the ghost of my mother.

How time is not so much frozen,

but collapsing into sleepless nights.

The ache in my hands, the heaviness

of my arms holding the dry bark

of your cough. She said to list

my losses. I think of those who are

dying alone in the intensity of hospitals,

how much it meant to hold your hand

in those last days. There is a cruelty

to all this that crackles in my voice,

long distance, where words falter and fall.

Homesick

Mornings I have taken to putting

on the radio waves of my own country.

That sea of voices with their inability

to count trees brings me back

to a dark island with the shipwreck

dashed open as if to say we are all

sailors now clinging to the rhythm

of the shipping news.

Slipping through a crack in time

back to a Sunday morning in bed

with my mother as the radio crackled

the answers to fire prayers

and the warmth of our bodies

under a green nest duvet.

How safe I felt as the woman spoke

of gale force winds, the speed

of lighthouses, as if I could hear

the creak of the currach oars

out there on the Atlantic, wild and lost.

Pandemic

I am back in that box marked phobia of hospitals.

My lungs stripped of tinned cans of milk.

There is a preacher with a gun in Florida

who refuses to stop praying with his followers

flocked together in some weird cultish suicide pact

with the devil of the detail as the cops wonder

whether shooting is contagious.

We are standing on the edge of our lives

and the distances are too great and yet

not far enough. I thought I had escaped

these scars but every night I dream

you are kissing me. The curtains have closed

and the show cannot go on. The pain sneaks

back stage and questions where there will be

money in the bank, a world to return to.

My skin fragile as the shell of an egg.

The birds sing louder now we have

fallen silent. I am listening to the music

of apple blossom in a breeze sharper

than surgical knives. I am staying still,

camouflaged from oxygen, waiting

for the wolf to pass our door.

Afraid

The trees are creaking.

The wind in the door as if

the falcons circling over our heads

know that the white rags waving

in the fields are not scarecrows

but the ghosts of empty city streets

where even the dog walkers

no longer nod hello.

You are struck with pain

in your fingers, legs, stomach.

You say your brain is on fire

as the old helplessness engulfs us.

I wrap you in my arms

as you beg for silence.

Downstairs there is only red wine

and denial. The house breathes fear

but at least you are sleeping.

The perfect bow of your lips,

the curve of your eyebrow.

I would sacrifice the sky itself

to protect you. These are the prayers

of the small hours when the storm

threatens hospitals and I am

suddenly scared of where this is going.

Burnt

Out in the field on the hill,

they have lit a fire from the trees

they’ve spent all day chopping down.

The buzz of the chainsaw slicing

through a silence that is deeper now

the traffic is muted to the odd passing truck.

The orange flames lick at a brilliant blue sky

as the smoke snakes its way over the houses.

Maybe they need to keep busy,

maybe they need the work.

But watching from my window,

I can’t help feeling the world

is fragile enough. Do we need

to cut into the arms of the defenceless?

Why not instead plant the homesick seed

deep in the forests of our mind?

So that when we return to ourselves,

our green mouths no longer speak of ash.