Returned

The shoppers wear masks.

You say it’s as if everyone

has spent the lockdown

partying late into the night,

only now emerging

in sunlight. Blinking,

exhausted, overwhelmed

by all the sudden noise.

The traffic, the clouds.

A barge passing slowly

through an open lock.

You shout with sudden nostalgia

for streets we have not seen

in months. We eat our picnic

in the park watching topless boys

perform on their scooters,

a dog playing with a fallen

tree branch. You turn your bike

down a path we’ve never

noticed before. The dark dapple

of woods by the canal whisper

this is what it is to fall back

in love with the world,

to be held in the soft flow of water.

Covid Music

The wail of the ambulance

is white with the speed of wings

that are the opening and closing

of eyelashes. A wavelength

unspooled by a conductor

in a coat of eggshells.

The magical spinning

of a light in a window.

Scarlet lungs.

But the skin of the world

is beaten blue by clowns

with batons. Their grins

stretched across the faces

of scared children as the streets

fill with the longing to remove

these stones in the throat.

To sing the living, breathing

colours of tomorrow.

Not the grey chains of those

who bought their plinths

by selling humans

into sailing coffins.

This history of green fields

and great men is a lie

branded on to the chests

of those who in the long days

of quarantine have been

the heroes in the hospitals,

the ones who saved your life,

and will not be clapped back

into black boxes. Blind silence.

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.

Blackout

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.

Gone

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.