Five Poems

By Paul Stephenson

Relationship as Zoom

We kept breaking up.
We kept not hearing each other.

Sometimes you’d freeze for a moment
and I’d wait to see if you were still there.

Sometimes I’d ask ‘Are you still there?’
and you’d continue with what you were saying.

You’d take up from wherever you left off
though I couldn’t always follow.

Sometimes we’d try to connect.
Sometimes we’d just give up.

Sometimes your mouth would move
but you wouldn’t say a thing.

Sometimes you’d leave then come back in.
Sometimes you tried but couldn’t.

Confinement in Brussels

Today all bright and blue and yellow,
my head is walking along the shore,

past thirteen ugly agglomerations
where Albert Einstein sat out the war.

Today alright and blue and yellow,
my body is working but not as planned,

my legs have forgotten how to stride
and the sea has been temporarily banned.

Quatrains in Quarantine (Twitter, 28.03.20 to 02.04.20)

Listen, I’m different to how I was
My belly’s much bigger
My hair’s got longer
I’m not used to wearing shoes


And when you get home do you?
Rinse your veg
Rinse your toilet rolls
Rinse your disinfectant


In the era of unwashed hands
We covered our hands
In day-to-day muck
Didn’t ever think about them much


(‘in the era of unwashed hands’ Maurice Riordan)

It’s like just now
When we were all chatting
Like we used to chat
When we’d sit around chatting


Especially this morning
And a little in the afternoon
A prickly sensation
Like fireworks in the lungs


Oh it was good
So good to see everyone smiling
Everyone smiling at each other’s smiles
Smiles in the act of smiling


Do I open the window at night
Or should I keep it closed?
A little fresh air while sleeping
Is beneficial I suppose?


Some shops are essential
Some shops are non-essential
What about the chocolate shops
After all we are in Brussels?


As East 17 kinda sang:
Baby if you’ve got to go away
I don’t think / I can take the pain
Won’t you stay (home) another day


As George Michael kinda sang:
Let’s (not) go outside (let’s (not) go outside)
In the sunshine
I know you want to but you can’t say yes


As George Michael also kinda sang:
Let’s (not) go outside (let’s (not) go outside)
In the moonshine
(Don’t) Take me to the places that I love best



Going forward, I’ve lost an hour from yesterday:
30 minutes checking my nozzles then cleaning my heads;
20 minutes trying everything but not hearing a thing;
10 minutes sitting bereft, the swans & dolphins aren’t true


Who needs restaurants?
Who needs reservations?
Who needs courses, candles, leaning in?
Who needs to feed on conversation?


On the windowsill, the scented leaves
of my orange geranium;
Ten kilometres north from here, and nobody
in the spheres of the Atomium


We’re where you’ll be in a few days
entwined in a parallel dance,
a few steps ahead of you in the path of time,
the rhythm is now advanced


(after a Guardian article ‘A letter to the UK from Italy’)


The trams are still running
The sun is still shining
The streets are still empty –
The silver lining?



I Zoom in
And I Zoom out
But can I really focus?


We play along
As if business as usual,
As if we’re all winning
From the audiovisual



I will love you or fever.
Cherish all we had or fever.
I’ll hold onto the memory or fever.
And remember this moment. Or fever.


This is Just to Say (lockdown)

After William Carlos Williams

I have used up
the toilet roll
that was in
the cupboard

and which
you were probably
for an emergency

Forgive me
it was 4-ply
so quilted
and so ultra-soft

There Once was a Tutor on Zoom

There once was a tutor on Zoom
Giving a lecture on David Hume
They got so enlightened
The students got frightened
So got up and left the room(s)


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Two hours solid – and with real va-va-voom!
But on leaving the meeting
Their battery depleting
They were empty and couldn’t resume


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Who wanted their students to bloom
So he talked to them daily
Of Benjamin Disraeli
Made them Conservatives through and through


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Four lectures in one afternoon
Two hours on Cy Twombly
Turned him into a Zombie
So he locked himself in a dark room


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Who gave a class in their swimming costume
A pair of old trunks
That seemed to have shrunk
They stayed seated, one dares to presume


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Expounding on Leopold Bloom
They unpacked James Joyce
So the students rejoiced
In the slums and the gaslight and gloom


There once was a tutor on Zoom
In a closet, not much elbow room
Thye leaned in and huddled
But got blinded and muddled
By the dress shirts on hangers entombed


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Sharing insights from downtown Khartoum
They spoke with a smile
And a view of the Nile
Students attentive and Sudanly consumed


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Who wished they were back in the womb
Yet to be born
And awaiting their dawn
As a person, a being, a whom


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Who wore posh clothes and put on perfume
But no one could smell it
So they got zero credit
For their floral and fresh fragrant fumes


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Who cast a spell on all the rooms
When the magic hour was over
A quick hat and cloak makeover
Whizzing off on a witch’s broom


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Explaining theory to the room(s)
But the students were scared
Looked on blankly and stared
Foggy concepts lost in the brume


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Unable to think, find headroom
Bit it was Monday mid-morning
And the world was still yawning
Coffee? Yes! Sugar? Yes, two spoons!!


There once was a tutor on Zoom
Who’d lunched on an orange legume
Soon they looked like a carrot
And talked like a parrot
Twas a dodgy veggie consumed


There once was a train from Liège
Always hard to find un siège
It was often out of order
Forced you out at the border
Une piège, pas un privilège

Paul Stephenson, poetry and covid

Paul Stephenson’s latest pamphlet is Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017). He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and interviews poets at

Twitter: @stephenson_pj Instagram: paulstep456

In those early days of lockdown, I think humour was a really important way of letting off steam and dealing with anxiety, and it certainly helped colleagues engage with each other at distance. I remember all those short videos that everybody was spamming each other with as a kind of coping mechanism.

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Fokkina McDonnell
1 year ago

Love the wit and humour in the poems as a coping mechanism.

Audrey Ardern-Jones
Audrey Ardern-Jones
1 year ago

Fabulous poems Paul – so witty and clever, you are amazing.

Hilary Custance Green

That was a treat, Paul, thanks so much.

1 year ago

I like the take off of Williams… The toilet roll!

1 year ago

Some great lines, Paul. What talent! I feel particularly beckoned by the rhymes about the tutor on Zoom as this was my daily struggle during and after confinement. It looks as if we will be holding ‘proper’ classes again this autumn but wait and see…

Maggie Reed
Maggie Reed
1 year ago

Brilliant! Love these poems – a great record of these strange times…

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