#lockdown poetry 30: the return

The garden changing and the same

Cowslip in seed and rose in bud

I know this will return again

Garlic and sapphire in the mud.

Cowslip in seed and rose in bud:

The work to foster leaf and flower

Garlic and sapphire in the mud,

Wonder and rage in every hour.

The work to foster leaf and flower

Defeats me on an empty page

Wonder and rage in every hour:

Work that demands my heart as wage.

Defeated by an empty page

I hunker to the earth and find

Work that demands my heart as wage:

The task’s enough to fill the time.

I hunker to the earth and find

The garden changing and the same

The task’s enough to fill the rhyme:

I know this will return again.

#lockdown poetry 29: why writing poetry during lockdown is essentially a futile enterprise

lockdown dreams

Last night I dreamt of a computer screen.
On the screen, a picture of a strange fruit.
By the fruit, were written words
that would heal the heartache
that’s with me even when I sleep.
I take my glasses off before I sleep:
the words were blurred out of their meaning.
So, carefully, I cut, pasted, and saved,
against tomorrow’s comfort.
In the morning, I found the words
evaporated in a steam of lines and curves
and half-made thoughts.
Computers, pictures, words – none of these
will ease the pain at the world’s heart.

#lockdown poetry 28: Apple tree blessing

I give back the apple to the tree that bore it

I give the apple to feed the tree that fed it

The last apple from the tree

On this day in April it was calculated

That in the world three million people have contracted coronavirus

And two hundred thousand have died.

I give back the apple

That I picked in the autumn, kept from its first taut ripeness

To the russet-eyed wrinkles of the winter’s end

the softness of its own decay.

In my country, twenty-one thousand, six hundred and seventy-eight died

114 of those were care workers

and 70 of the care workers were people of colour

I place autumn’s apple,

Under the winter black branches,

Beneath the spring-pale blossom

And the green summer leaves,

leaf, blossom, branch, fruit, on this day in April.

In my region, two thousand, one hundred and thirty-eight people

In my county, two hundred and twenty-eight

I put the apple

On the bare earth, sticky with dew,

Smelling of rain-damp

Surrounded by green growth, tall as cow-parsley, thick as grass

Beneath the blessings of the collared dove.

In my city’s hospital, seventy-eight people.

Two of those are people whose living touched me slant.

Blessings on the apple

Blessings on the tree it came from

Blessings on the garden around the tree

Blessings on the family who come to the garden

Blessings on the earth that holds the garden

Bless us every one.

#lockdown poetry 27: rough guide to my kitchen

The weather in my kitchen is bright with a threat of stormclouds.

You will find it pretentiously humble.  It has memories of once

calling itself a morning room.  Observe the customs of the place.

Late-night washing up, and obsessive moving of objects

from one flat surface to another.  Observe the fauna and flora:

crumbs sprouting on the kitchen table and a pot of basil

fighting for survival on the window-sill desert.  The dustbin

snaps with indigestion, and the fridge is in therapy

to recover its inner light.

The kitchen is a place of myths; 

the lost legend of the knives and forks,

the fabled existence of a potato peeler

and the cult of the scarlet fluff monster,

who looks out from the gap

between worktop and washing machine,

standing guard against the invasion of the midnight slugs.

Send a postcard. the jar of olive oil, (extra virgin)

or the grey stains spreading across the floor.

The kitchen puts on bright clothes that show the dirt,

but hide the grief.  The scent it wears? Burned onions and toast.

 ‘Do you love me?’ asks the kitchen.  You say

‘You are the one that keeps me warm.’  Observe the conspiracy.

Don’t let the heat out to the rest of the house.

#lockdown poetry 25: recipe for a poem

place side by side:

the silence of empty streets, the blackbird’s conversation, the hum of the grass

the colours of: daybreak heartbreak and commercial breaks

the jar of something from the back of the cupboard that turned up while I was looking for tinned tomatoes

A list. Any list. Isn’t that all we’re doing right now, making lists against the moment the world reboots itself?

Mix in sparingly:

A complete non-sequitur

– why do spiders lay so many eggs?

An elusive moment

– that one, right there –

of calm

– no, gone again

The crazy slatted angles of a chair’s shadow

A frayed string twisting in the wind.

Prompted by a #NapoWriMo poetry prompt so long it was a poem in its own right, and introduced me to the word parataxis, which means things put side by side.

#lockdown poetry 24: Rose in April

It must have been the nightingale
befuddled by the streetlights’ glare
and the locked lips of the tarmac.
 
It must have been the nightingale
slipping into the tangle of dogwood and bramble
at the forgotten end of the garden.
 
It must have been the nightingale
drunk on the scent of the unfurling lilac
and the curled-up edges of the new-mown grass.
 
It must have been the nightingale
that while we slept poured from a spendthrift purse
the trills and waterfalls of its divine high-piping Pehlevi.
 
It must have been the nightingale
calling for wine, wine, wine, red wine
that in April brought a crimson blush to the cheek
of a single rose.
 

The day after listening to Sam Lee’s Singing with Nightingales programme, I found a single red rose unseasonally early in the garden, and was reminded of a favourite verse from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam.

#lockdown poetry 23: Happy birthday Will

The genius and the mortal instruments

Are then in council, and the state of man

Like to a little kingdom suffers then

The nature of an insurrection.

Julius Caesar, Act 2 Scene 1

They talk about ‘fighting the virus,’ ‘Dunkirk spirit’, ‘winning the battle’

But to tell you the truth it’s more like a committee meeting.

The sort you go in with a big idea, a sensible plan,

a way you want to spend your time

And everybody shouts at you at once. 

Everyone has a different hurt or problem or opinion

and they all need listening to

When all you want to do is follow your plan to its inescapable conclusion.

It’s hard to tell which one is shouting loudest

The ache of back or gut, the thump of headache,

the skin’s persistent prickling

or the slow bellow of the lungs.

For Shakespeare’s birthday, a poem inspired by his take on coronavirus.

#lockdown poetry 22, Earth Day, 2020: Hunger – a lament

Erisychthon dreams of feasts, closes his mouth on vacancy, grinds tooth on tooth, exercises his gluttony on insubstantial food, and, instead of a banquet, fruitlessly eats the empty air.
Ovid, Metamorphoses

Hunger squatted
On his sleeping chest
Blew emptiness into mouth throat belly
And into his hollow veins

Last night I dreamt of meat in truckloads.
I unclipped the ramp to see the lorry’s maw
piled with rumps, shoulders, loins.
I pulled them out: and wore them,
scarlet with congealed blood
the cloak of them dragging at my shoulders.

            As the ocean receives all the rivers of the world
           and is still unfilled;
           as fire never refuses fuel,
          so his tainted lips receive all food
         and beg for more in the same breath.

Waking, I pay lipservice
to the Goddess Ceres
I accept her gifts:
satsumas, broccoli, and a packet
of raisin cereal bars.
Plastic wrapped, on special offer,
purple slabs of steak pile up in mountains:
I feel the jolt of hunger possess my belly.

By eating he creates an empty void.
All his wealth lies
in the deep pit of his gut.

On my way home, shopping piled in my basket
oh I saw him
there where chainlink fence and red tarmac
have consumed the woodland path
and sprawling concrete
has cut down trees and flattened wheatfields:
there I saw him sink his teeth
into his own flesh
gnawing and swallowing until all was gone.

On Earth Day 2020 I was due to tell the story of Erisychthon as part of the worldwide celebration.  I offer this poem instead.

#lockdown poetry 21: the apple week 4

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Apple Princess

Apple on a shining saucer
Comb of silver, brush of gold
Yet she loved you like a daughter
Always young and never old

Did she see you, apple girl,
Comb of silver, brush of gold
In evening light set loose your curls
Always young and never old

Till the prince rode past and saw
Comb of silver, brush of gold
As he galloped off to war
Always young and never old

Did she for money let you part
Comb of silver, brush of gold
Or give you to a trusting heart
Always young and never old

In silken palace room you live,
Comb of silver, brush of gold
What promise did you get and give
Always young and never old

Stabbed and pierced with steel knife
Comb of silver, brush of gold
The blood you shed as red as life
Always young and never old

No longer in the apple’s thrall
Comb of silver, brush of gold
The present moment is your all
You are young and know not old

The apple’s ripe and on the shelf
Skin of russet, skin of gold
Bruised and wrinkled as yourself
Once were young and now are old.

Based on an Italian traditional story collected by Italo Calvino