By Lesley Quayle
The way we whisper the word; to say it aloud
confers a truth upon it, gives it a taste in our mouths,
a cross between sorrow and dread; we can work, play and strive,
navigate the storms that batter heart and mind,
but we can’t tolerate this breath of fear that cloaks
the strong, hard ground, like a never ending fall of leaves.
And the old, with their milky eyes, anxious for light,
are the first to be taken. They understand the order of it,
still, they can’t imagine their names carved into stone,
their dust dissolved in earth, their time of gone.
Then the weak, the young, occasionally a fine specimen.
Those who do, pray, secretly bargaining with their gods,
anxious not to vex the fickle, vengeful deities,
and those who don’t, wonder if it’s worth a shot
to hedge all bets, the just-in-case, panic loosened
like a startled horse. But still they celebrate,
sitting behind tight shut windows and doors,
how the dawn breaks and small birds sing their hearts out.
(The seventh year after it began, it came to England and first began in the towns and ports joining on the seacoasts, in Dorsetshire, where, as in other counties, it made the country quite void of inhabitants so that there were almost none left alive. Geoffrey the Baker – Chronicon Angliae)
Cock pheasants scavenge
in gravel beneath the bird table,
squabble over dropped seed,
heckle and fluster, bombast pugilists.
Buff coloured hens,
in the sun-slatted orchard,
gather twigs and fallen thatch for nesting.
This old house closes in
as Easter shepherds Spring
and news of plague through Dorset meadows,
quite void of inhabitants.
Be content to live only for the day –
a double acrostic
(From The Plague by Albert Camus)
By now most carry the weight; it isn’t love,
essentially it’s fear that holds us so
close and grounds us, everything’s conditional on
our abandonment of future plans, a global
notice to quit for now, each suspended day
the same, a groundhog anniversary of grief,
every announcement no longer listened to,
no news is good, there’s only weather
to applaud, a blush-pink moon at night,
the simple, silver trance of stars, wide sash
of galaxies, clear in the tarry heavens, free
loading satellites, spinning, a blur of red.
In the morning, a cloud of white blossom, a
vault of green, birdsong welling like linctus. Sanctuary.
The Great Pause
Today from the New York Times: “The seismometers that geologists use to detect earthquakes also pick up the vibrations of human activity — vehicle traffic, construction equipment, heavy machinery and the like. But with billions of people now staying home, the “thumping pulse of civilization is now barely detectable,” Robin George Andrews, a volcanologist, writes.”
There has been a great pause,
and now only a ghost of the M62
inhabits the moor, a cinereal ribbon
cleaving the horizon, desolate as a ruin.
The same sky, same dark valleys,
bewildered by the roistering of birdsong,
a tolling hymnal of ewes downwind,
the footfall of roe deer
free to cross by Stott Hall Farm;
small becks and rills tumble lonely graces
and we pin their blessings, like jewels.
The moors have their small dialects,
quiet peals of heather, the wax and wane
of bracken tides, nodding flocks
of cotton grass, bog asphodel’s starry drifts.
A sudden shriek and squall of wingbeats
as grouse are routed from their cover.
The soft glissade of adders
and bliss of pirouetting skylarks.
The croon of orbiting, harvesting bees,
paper white butterflies and silver moths,
mercurial, above scuttling mice and voles;
these languages unlearned, long sequestered
by the thumping pulse of civilisation…
Lesley Quayle is a widely published, prizewinning poet, editor and folk/blues singer. Her latest pamphlet is Black Bicycle (4Word).