By Rosie Jackson
Mailing Poems in a Time of Virus
We were social distancing. Which meant that
my aura could reach out like an inflated balloon,
rub against the edge of hers, meant there was space
between us for the unsaid to whisper. We were
in the Post Office on Christchurch Street,
part mail business, part teeth-rotting sweets.
And when she – the woman behind the counter –
asked what was inside my package, I wanted
to plump out my chest the way the blackbird did
that morning on my lawn, paint my lips beak orange,
announce, as if it was the first morning,
this was my new poetry book, the first order,
and did she know how hard it was to get poems
published, let alone sell them in a time of virus.
But by now she was coughing, a cloud of wet
which landed on the counter, the stamps,
and the media cauldron that day cooked her
into a fat figure of death, her eyes hooded
like something from a Bergman movie,
that label next to the mailbag waiting
to be tied onto my ankle in a hospital morgue.
I paid contactless, arm outstretched, asked
if she ought to be at home – judgement, I’m sure,
in my voice, but also, I hope, sympathy.
And the look she gave me in return,
a mixture of mockery, shame, embarrassment,
contempt, reminded me of my mother
when I told her I was writing poetry,
the prosaic look of a woman who had to work
all hours to feed her kids and pay the rent.
Rosie Jackson: This poem tells the story of my first experience of social distancing, and the awkwardness of meeting people who might, unbeknownst to themselves, be carrying the Covid virus. It can become hard to see people as they are, and we sometimes have to work harder to sustain empathy.
In This Period of Strange Calm
In this period of strange calm
I have become a distant witness
to other people’s suffering,
the way a woman in Ancient Greece,
say, whose hours are spent worrying
if yesterday’s dish of food will stretch
to another meal, or how many goats
are lost on Mount Pelion, is dumbfounded
to hear what is happening skies away
in Delphi, it being hard for one
with simple ideas about goodness
to understand the necessity of sacrifice
to appease gods who have, apparently,
reached their limit of enduring human folly,
and perhaps she too stands outside
under a full pink moon, sends thanks
to white-robed figures attending
the dead, tears off leaves of oregano,
sage, wild mint, raises her hands
in prayer towards the gods hiding
on Mount Olympus, says –
This is enough, now, surely this sacrifice
is enough, we can change our ways –
then waits under the chestnut trees
for signs she has been heard.
Rosie Jackson: When lockdown was still something of a novelty in April, I found myself enjoying the quiet and isolation, then felt guilty at not being part of the collective suffering which I knew about only from the media. This poem was the result, knowing it has always been a struggle to come to terms with multiple deaths, and imaging how other people have also found it hard to accept widespread suffering as part of a ‘divine’ plan.
ROSIE JACKSON lives in Frome, Somerset. Her collection of poems about Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline Spencer, Two Girls and a Beehive (written with Graham Burchell) is published by Two Rivers Press (April 2020). Other books include What the Ground Holds, The Light Box, and The Glass Mother: A Memoir. Rosie has taught at the University of East Anglia, Bristol UWE, Cortijo Romero and in many community settings. Widely published, her poems have won many awards, including 1st prize at Poetry Space 2019, Wells 2018, and Stanley Spencer 2017. www.rosiejackson.org.uk