Safe Distance

By Rona Fitzgerald

The voice in my head is busy, reassuring.
But its variable – as if not enough air
is getting through.

Of course, it’s always been there, steadying
making sense of stuff – I make a great effort
not to speak out loud.

Singing helps, like in the musicals or films.
But not full songs now, ditties and lines
as if my brain is working away –

needing lots of energy to even grasp
the situation. I wear my scarf, gloves
and keep my distance.

In the queue in M&S food, a woman
is keen to chat – inching close as I squirm.
‘Do you think it’s the gulf stream?

More like global warming I say, though lovely
to have good weather in lockdown.
‘I mean the virus, she says, I saw it on TV.’

The virus is transmitted by us, I say, humans –
not the gulf stream. At the next till another woman says
she’ll try magnets in her shoes!

Rona Fitzgerald was born in Dublin and now lives in Glasgow.

Her poetry is published in UK, Scottish, Irish and US, in print and online. 

Highlights include Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry 2016, Oxford Poetry XVI.iii Winter 2016-17. Resurrection of a Sunflower, Pski’s Porch 2017. The Passage Between, Issue 1 Spring 2018.  Poems for Grenfell Tower, Onslaught Press 2018, #Me Too, Fair Acre Press, 2018.  Blue Nib magazine, Issue 39 September 2019 and Digital Edition June 2020 and five short essay pieces on the Write Life section of the Blue Nib digital edition 2020.We often crowd into spaces and especially at the till, women often chat about their lives. The distance in the poem is the gap in our understanding of where the virus came from and the resistance to keeping a distance from each other.  

I wrote this poem in April, as we were getting used to the virus and assessing how dangerous it would be – notably for older age groups and people with long term illness. Was it okay to go food shopping, should I try to stay indoors, how will I manage to keep going without my walks?

As an asthmatic woman in my mid-sixties, I needed to assess my vulnerability. Fortunately, I’m quite fit. As well as walking on pavements and hills, I do an exercise bike everyday and a barre-based class weekly for the last fifteen years. I read up on the literature as well – something I have done since my early years in pharmacy. 

What struck me was that the way we use words and assess our risks has been transformed by the virus. So safe became a word of great import as did the idea of social distance.

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