By Stephen Daws
For a dear friend who died of Covid-19
Responding with words, across emptied sky,
along cables to those at risk of homelessness
unemployment, violence and hunger. Unmasked,
ventilating work. Mobilised in days to depart
for lonely toil, suited to sterile conversations
on screens, intriguingly back-dropped. Fumbling
with new kit, like civilian turned soldier,
Teams to meet and conference calls to speak
about furlough and universal credit.
As field hospitals get-set, sat at makeshift station
limbs stretched and twisted, like scientific fact
peddled at daily briefings. Challenged
by new regulations designed for evacuees,
going nowhere. Siouxie’s vinyl shriek pierces
the still lingering stillness of last night’s
virtual yoga class. Appraising, meditatively,
the notion that no matter the chasm of experience
between each life, in death, it surely amounts to no distance at all.
Outside, comforting silence. Leaves unfurling.
Communal lawn run to pretty meadow, not unlike
silver roots. Song mingles with noon’s deathly silence.
Later, at the appointed time, once a week for a few minutes,
the clap of gratitude ebbs, surges, peaks and moves,
like a virus, from our side of the road to care home staff,
in stiff blue aprons and visors, onward to the gusty
whoop of an unfamiliar, vulnerable neighbour.
Inside, the insistent, repetitive ping of email landing
generates the sense of waves about to engulf,
like the daily death count–and I’m left wondering
who else I’ve hugged for the last time. Pleading,
with microscopic stuff: please don’t let it be…
Diagnosing issues, issuing social prescriptions,
but the afternoon sun strikes too warm.
Unseasonal heat in unprecedented times.
Never a friend’s funeral watched at home
in the sunny corner of the dining room
Who is next, for a ration of time with an expert
in safety net rights. Peppered by pep talks – both regal and humble –
pumped by too much caffeine, incited by anguish
to select the instrument of care: pamphlet, website link,
helpline number, claim form. Not conscripted
to enforced leisure, busy as the blue tits on the feeder,
dutiful tongue clicks into action and fingers dispatch words
to remote strangers – all the while calibrating
the worth of relationships: please don’t let it be …
how to flee, how to pay the bills, how to stay alive.
Stephen Daws: I’ve had a long career with Citizens Advice. My expertise is employment law. I enjoy adventure travel, birdwatching and an allotment. My first gig was The Damned in 1979.
Alongside the experience of personal grief, lockdown created a daunting work challenge: from home, how would advisers at my local citizens advice provde advice to some of the most vulnerable individuals in society, many of whom do not use the internet. I believe that our common humanity makes us equal in worth, dignity and rights. Clearly, this virus has exposed gaps and disparities in wealth, health, race, education and digital resources. Grim as lockdown was for me, I hope that our response to the pandemic results in actions that promote equality.