By Lizzie Dunford
It Was the Epoch of Rationing
Inspired by Charles Simic, The World Doesn’t End (1989)
It was the epoch of rationing. The sweet scent of warm banana bread on cooling racks drifted from kitchen windows, but there was a six-week waiting list for baking powder, and you had to order yeast from China. Everyone was planting potatoes, at least until the compost ran out; you could buy it on the black market if you paid in toilet rolls or eggs or dried pasta. We spent sleepless dawns staring at small screens, searching for salad seeds; were ecstatic to discover wild garlic and dandelion leaves sprouting in neglected flowerbeds. We administered the News in restricted doses, never at night. Reality mutated daily, infiltrated our safe spaces, left poisonous fingerprints on cashpoints, breathed contaminated droplets of neon green mist in the aisles of supermarkets. So, we rationed it, peering at the world through masks, performing dances on pavements, sidestepping into hedges and gutters. Some gave it up altogether, retreating to back gardens, boxed sets, bunkers.
Sonnet for Shakespeare’s Birthday, 23 April 2020
How do I measure time this strangest spring?
No longer by the calendar or clock.
This pestilence has altered everything,
Erased appointments, made an utter mock
Of schedules, plans, of meeting face to face.
Though we can call each other, speak on Zoom,
We can no longer offer an embrace,
Invite a friend into our living room.
So, from my window, I will count instead
The blossoms on the pale magnolia tree,
Watch buds unfurl to petticoats, then shed
At last their waxy petals, I shall see
The blooms pile up in pink drifts on the grass,
Observe the seasons: this too shall pass.
May Morning, 2020
unscarred by jets. The roar
of the motorway is now a murmur.
The racket of machines, clatter
of pallets in the furniture factory
has ceased. No trucks rattle
through the railway sidings.
Raucous squawks from the silver birch,
magpies on megaphone. A rumpus
of rustling in the hawthorn hedge –
wren trills, fortissimo. Woodpigeons
crash-land on willow boughs,
croon their mantras. A robin,
red throat throbbing,
belts out a melody, while
long-tailed tits in pastel pink
twitter and flit, flirtatious,
from branch to branch.
Flail of feathers, cacophony
of quacks and splashes. An orgy
in the pond next door.
Al Fresco, July 2020
Under the ivy, here, the table’s laid:
fat olives, rough rye bread and salty cheese,
black cherries, chilled white wine – as if you’ve made
a meal of memories, and tried to seize
our mutual remembrance of times past,
the plane trees in that sun-bleached market square
where from brown paper bags we made a feast,
pain de campagne, Brie and Camembert –
or lazy picnics by the green lagoon
watching the lizards scamper up the wall –
peaches, Prosecco, a shimmering afternoon,
Venetian summer sliding into fall.
But this is England. Now, in cooler air,
we must learn patience, live our lives with care.
Lizzie Dunford grew up in Ulster but has lived in Nottingham for over thirty years. She is interested in the relationship between writing (especially poetry) and well-being.
I have been writing to try to keep a record of this period. The poems are in the order I wrote them, reflecting the earlier time of strict lockdown, and then the time of ‘easing’ and making sense of the ‘new normal’.