Anna Livia

She was a woman in water

collecting sweet wrappers.

Her hair the long sobs

of a drunk wandering home

in the small hours. Lost kisses

carved into her eyes. The floozy

in the jacuzzi, the whore

in the sewer. You had to

know her to make that rhyme.

None of those grey men in wigs

were so abused and slurred.

They stood around in solemn silence,

their crimes forgotten,

but she was closer to the streets,

the rebel songs my grandmother whistled

even when the words were banned.

They replaced her with a giant needle

pointing up to the future.

Sharp, unforgiving, uncomplicated.

Not a place where question marks

congregated but a story moved on.

What remains, what is removed.

Listening To Stars

The sheep cry in the distant fields

is full of leaves rustling

their secret summer song

as the birds celebrate June

with its sudden wearing of fox gloves.

Silk ballroom bees waltz in and out

to the hum of a lawnmower somewhere.

The breeze shimmering over the stream

is the calligraphy of this concerto

by a composer whose name

we have forgotten

in our rush to be silent shopping.

These spaces are breathing

balloons of clouds, a wisp

of a path leading up and up

towards a glass heaven.

A single note struck against the rim

of the universe where we are all

falling petals wishing for light.

Beyond This Place

The rain is a storm of caged birds,

the clipped wings of a body

stripped of its inner sanctum.

The muscle torn and stretched,

back to front. The lungs

with their waves of fear,

the heart galloping.

This ringing, rushing in my head.

My blood holding the secret

to exhaustion. A battle

I glimpse in the early hours

when the wind whips through

my ribs and I am clinging

to the mast. A shredded flag,

defiant fluttering in my bones.

I am not the captain of this vessel,

I am a stowaway hidden

in the hold of sickness.

But I see my face reflected

in fresh water and my eyes

are scratched glass,

the patterns flying free.

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.

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.