DISTANCING

By Christine Macfarlane

(i) So close as to be internal

This virus is getting into my dreams.
Stuck in a traffic jam, my own voice croaks
Hi! Keep your distance. A foot, not my own,
brakes, keeps me clear. I see my friends at a
nearby table. Pale, starving, they feast from
a communal plate, scoop ghastly grey gloop
to their mouths then scrape it in panic from
their skeletal arms and faces. They wave.
I hurry off through a shopping mall but
all the shops are closed. I stop to read the
handwritten sign in a window, warning
Customers not already dead – stay back!
I seldom recall dreams, now I struggle
to exorcise these pictures from my head.

(ii) Through a lens

When seen through a microscope
Covid-19 is a live limpet-mine.
Small spikes radiate from it – like sputnik.
This word, when translated from the Russian,
means fellow traveller. The virus sticks
close to its host and mingles readily.
On our screens, behind heads of newsreaders,
huge three-dimensional models spin by.
Their imagined colours shout danger, as
black-gold stripes of wasps or the enamelled
shades of venomous, tropical tree frogs
warn, Look out we’ll get you with our poison.
This assassin, unannounced, hunkers down
in the warm dampness of a human lung.


(iii) From a distance of two metres you notice

Two people standing apart in the park,
voices raised in anxious conversation;
long queues outside a supermarket where
shoppers emerge, trolleys piled with panic,
inside, empty shelves constantly refilled;
quiet streets, cars parked, everyone indoors.
A child waves, but she’d rather see a friend,
cycle to the park where swings hang empty.
Her father pours a Guinness, Skypes a mate.
From their TV, muted in a corner,
scientists, politicians take turns to warn.
In the churchyard where spring is deafening,
loud blossom and birds, the only mourners
at another, quiet funeral.

(iv) As Seen from the Moon

It’s true, our planet is taking a break.
Astronauts in orbit (some en-route to
the moon, or to work in the space station)
are accustomed to urban glow – night light
strung across continents, sign of endless
human activity here below them –
Now, the half-earth that sleeps is in darkness.
As plague stalks the world, other living things
applaud, take a deeper, cleaner breath and
sing, bloom, nest. Oceans are bluer, rivers
run clear. Grounded jets leave no contrails,
carbon levels fall. Truce – or an end to
climate change? People disagree. When this
scourge passes, few will be left to argue.


(v) In Retrospect

Throughout lockdown, many populations
fell to talking data, graphs, R-numbers,
yes, numbers became the new discourse.
One day you’ll look back (no, we’re not there yet)
when global statistics are analysed,
you’ll hear how the meek and low-paid became
heroes – feted, praised. They kept us alive.
Co-operation, unseen since world wars,
was encouraged – vital for the fight-back –
to find a cure, to invent a vaccine.
And are your skies bluer, your air sweeter?
And did we stop lamenting our past
to ensure your future would be better?
Only you will know if we did that.

Christine Macfarlane: Full time carer but keep writing. Part of Rosie Jackson’s poetry workshop (Frome), love Words and Ears run by Dawn Gorman. Published: Poetry Salzburg, Stanley Spencer Poems anthology, Pale Fire (New writing on Moon anthology.)

The five linked poems started with a bad dream soon after lockdown started. I move from this internal, too close-for-comfort contact with the virus, further and further away. I have loved reading the poems up on your site.

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Moira Garland
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1 month ago

All great poems to read but especially number (ii) and that metaphor ‘Covid-19 is a live limpet-mine’.

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