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 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.