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.


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.


The moon rises above the tree,

pain slices down my back.

I am a tiny glass sliver,

tight with shivering.

Though the night is a warm blanket

and that silver sphere is full

with the promise of a summer

of fresh pine needles, bicycle rides,

piano notes falling past midnight

when the war is over.

Parties in the street,

luggage tag children returned.

A song of such longing

for the four o’clock in the morning

mouthing of your name.

If only I dared to send a postcard

from this land of broken shells,

shining under an attack of plague,

so you could see what I see

through the dark square of the window.

At Twenty

There were platform heels across cobblestones,

a vodka bottle sunk like a stone. Cowboys and angels,

sailing across the specks on the carpet,

the sitting room spinning glitter ball broken fish tanks

as we danced till four am. The rain in the moonlit street,

boys thinner than shadows. Saucer kisses,

aeroplane tickets, always on the edge of goodbye.

We were so fucking gorgeous if only we’d known.


You run down the hill,

gathering pace

as you get further

and further from me,

till you vanish

behind a bush

of white bloom

waving in surrender.

This not being

in my sight

brings back

the old panic

so I pick up speed,

turn the corner,

and there is nothing,

just the yellow field

under the vastness

of a bright blue sky.

The breeze is laughing

as my heart

skips and skids

over the emptiness.

I shout your name.

You suddenly jump up

from your hiding place

amongst the flowers.

Love restored.


These days of sudden apple blossom

and a ball thrown high into a sky of clouds

swirled through forget me not blue

are detached from the endless aeroplane

telephone calls, late night urgent

meetings about meetings.

They sing of the stream passing

over stone, hawks holding

their breath, the horse

glittering in the field.

Your laughter in all its fragility,

the clocks caught in our throats.

How very small we really are.


The path strikes

through a sea of yellow,

how high the tide

has grown

these last few days.

We sweep through

to a house

hidden, crumbled,

left to a broken cowshed,

but still piercing

the sky with an alarm

that scatters crows,

black question marks.

Our footsteps

sneaking round the back.

Inside the surprise

of the Royal Air Force truck,

brand new, as if the war

were hidden

in remote pockets

of these rolling fields.

The bombs ticking

in our hearts.

The enemy silent, invisible,

flying over at night

when sleep is

a parachute

that will not open.


Out walking in the woods, you suddenly announce,

there’s no such thing as dragons. I try to suggest

maybe long ago, back in prehistoric times,

just after dinosaurs. But you’re insistent

they’re just fairy tales, St George never

slew one, no creature could breathe fire.

I think of Puff weeping in his cave

and a grief for all those winged wonders

nearly brings me to my knees.

The things that little boys believe,

or nearly hold true, as that evening

you sob over the loss

of my time travelling machine.

How you wish we could find it back,

how neither of us are sure if those adventures

really happened or if teddy bears can talk.

You murmur, quietly in the dark, maybe all of life

is just made up, maybe I’m not real,

or you’re not there, maybe we’ll wake up

and none of this will have existed.

The miracle of how, at seven,

you can be so very young

and so very old at the same time.

I kiss your forehead, saying sleep now,

let’s keep dreaming for as long as we can.

Cleopatra in Wuhan

Snake streets in which love is stripped back

to a silent desert empty of soldiers.

You can have too much beauty.

I am queen of the deserted sky trains,

the roads that repeat their quarantine crossings.

Empires fall but this kiss of poison seeps back

across borders. When is it time to let go?

My skin slides free, curls into a question

of shoes, the cutting of hair. I wear my masks

in a city suspended, prisons in small boxes.