We keep apart six feet. We’ve lost intimacy.
A sickness that has come is keeping you from me.
So strange to stand so far when we were face to face,
I miss your tender touch as well your warm embrace.
The stats are counting up, we’ve each an end to bear
this ghostly breath against the gloves and masks we wear.
But it’s the space we give that’s keeping us as one.
A gorge of love and hope to see through this is done.
And time will side with us, provided we are strong,
to distance when it’s right, to fix what has gone wrong.
A heart sustaining heart, life and life on tether.
By keeping us apart, it’s keeping us together.
Okay, a little emotional, a little soppy (or quite soppy). I suppose I am. Although it feels strange to keep your distance from people, especially those you love, there’s this overwhelming sense of Team Humanity when people work the measures put in place. There really is a huge shared effort to, as everyone is putting it, #StopTheSpread – and it’s bloody beautiful! I had a thought the other day (one that led to this poem) that it’s as if there’s this invisible thing between us. Like a long table, a bench or something, a nasty virus one, and it’s stopping us from our usual hugs, close chats, intimacies, thumb wars. But it’s also something we’re agreeing to manage together, to manoeuvre around, to shuffle to one side and let someone pass, to give each other safe breathing space. It goes against what we’re used to, but staying away and keeping distant is translating clearly to ‘Let’s play it safe. We can make up the high fives when this is all blown over.’
I don’t know. Virus tables? My newly accrued lockdown mentality madness is convinced there’s some sense there.
Keep safe everyone!
Our recent conversations have been through glass.
We stand outside, cupped hands around our eyes,
looking through the broad pane framing their living room.
There, the young family. Our nephew, a year old, sleeps.
And we all thought – what does he know?
Only the warm, isolated comfort of innocence,
where for a precious few months there is no one
at work and mornings smell of baked bread.
Hands wrung, the mother worries about his lack
of social interaction in these early years,
and the father calculates the sad seep of savings.
How many evenings a meal can be stretched?
A generation of newborns are in the same boat,
but it is us communicating across fences, roads,
windows, barriers between our common worlds,
with our breath fogging the glass.
I left work today. “We should be home,”
I said, concerned about sharing tools,
the communal shed. Non-essential stuff,
I shrug, and ask if he will leave as well.
The grass grows, the crops need watering,
the weeds green between – I have to, he vows.
Pandemic. Sanitise. Just sounds to him, dissipating,
lost to breeze, birdsong, and spade hitting stone.
He bends down, unearths it with both hands.
What’s that doing in there, he mutters, and lugs
it to one side, then falls back down to work.
The picture is still there. I can’t shake it: a man
and his sweat married to soil, the sun pressed at his neck.
It sits on my desk, looking back at me.
Found amidst moss and wild garlic,
the bone wears a light shade of green
beneath the eye and stains a cheek.
It’s a stoat, I think, or a pine marten.
Small. Fit for my palm. Half the jaw gone,
the nose cavity jagged. One fang remains,
perhaps the same that tore a hole
in the neck of the kitten we rescued,
not far from where I found the skull.
The wound closed itself quickly,
and left a scar hidden beneath her fur.
The two both occupy this room.
Life and death here and there.
The cat sleeps beneath the radiator.
The cold skull gives a cold hard stare.
Past times will always sing, night and day.
Their songs can slow and hold you still,
and howl your younger years in their sway.
But your precious time isn’t for the dead.
Burn your ghosts hanging from the rafters.
Look forward. Straight ahead.
We walked beside the Shannon, against
that slow, steady flow, where tall grass
skirt the banks, and daffodils spot the path.
But we did not see it all; we turned after an hour,
and left the remaining length to mystery.
How little of the world do we need to see?
Like cows in a cattle trailer, their kind eyes,
pink noses move about their barred view
of the world, passing wide, grassy plains,
final scenes as they travel to the abattoir.
It’s the small pieces that help us along
through to the great portions of life.
Today, I saw a woman queuing in a gift shop
to buy a holy figurine. €1.99. Eight inches tall.
His hands pressed in plastic prayer.
The horses are still. Some may be sleeping,
others hold that blank, vacant stare.
Those black marbled eyes look right through you.
We fit each with a rain sheet, wrap their newborn-like
bodies from tail to mane and leave them
in the paddocks to stand in the rain.
Are we old, then? When were we last clothed?
What did we learn? Some do dress appropriately.
Boots, raincoats, waterproof trousers and thick socks.
Others look pale, thin, holding that empty gaze
unknowing why they’re shivering.
So they roll cigarettes, heat their lungs,
give their bodies some warmth that no one sees.
It is Thursday. The bottle is empty. My glass
nurses only a rusty smell of brown ale.
I sit alone, hands wringing, thinking there must
be some pool in this still parched mind of mine.
Please, inspiration. My empty page longs for print,
like a kingsize bed yearns for company. Speaking of –
– the neighbours upstairs are back. Going at it.
The headboard bangs the wall, the bed legs chafe
the carpet, to the repeated cry of drunk success.
His dull moan to her shrill yes.
Like a beggar beneath a water pump,
I raise my glass to catch whatever lend
could end this long drought. I feel it, seeping
through the mattress, passing between
the floorboards, sinking through the foam insulation,
working down the wire into the lightbulb, the lightbulb
that burns above my head. A bright idea for the dim.
Down it goes through my arm. To my hand. My pen. This poem.
Moulding tides, casting waves,
work, abrade coarse rock
to rounded pebbles.
I pick one and skim
centuries across the surface.
and I do not know how long it had been there.
The sweet thing, nestled, clung to a follicle,
black, silent, minute, and a winged witness
to my words, my breath, my pulse, routing
along my jawline, neighbour to the food
I ate. Perhaps it even had a moment to share
the scent of my sandwich, the burn of mustard
through my skin. We were close, you and I,
and went together through most of a day.
In the morning, maybe, you found solace there,
comfort in my mess of bristle and hair, and passed
soon after. I half-thank the people I met today
for not telling me about your small, quiet presence.
There are not many things we share,
humans, animals, insects, and even, perhaps,
your last breath, the final, tiny seep, expelled
into mine, and I’ll carry you always from now.