By Maia Elsner
The day lockdown is announced, our neighbour buys
binoculars. On our one hour government-prescribed walk,
curtains twitch like cat’s tails & eyelashes, playing I spy
a couple on the corner. Do they live together. A jogger stalks
us from behind. Are you all one family unit. Take off your hat
so I can take a look. It’s true. My sister’s eyes are grey & mine
are black. My brother is darker than me, he is stopped, hat
off, hoodie off. What is in your pockets. Do you live here. Time
passes. I pass a man outside M&S. He averts his eyes. There
are finches that acknowledge my humanity better. Father
tells of hungry ghosts & Buddhist cosmology in Co-op, where
aisles are empty. No rice. A woman goes in twice. Behind her
someone coughs. Behind me, someone. Coughs. Today,
everyone recoils & even the Gargoyles that hunt us as prey.
Everyone recoils. Even the Cupids that hunt us as prey.
My friend despairs, I am going to be single
forever. She orders fluorescent pink masks from a gay
German website. This is the new way to mingle,
let’s do this forever – today I wasn’t mis-gendered.
We get through Clueless & Step Up eating Pringles
& Sea Salt 70% Lindt. We treat ourselves & send
a thread of puppy videos doing stupid things.
Sometimes, I ache when raindrops lose themselves
& dissolve into each other. I watch Lord of the Rings
in search for meaning, cause JK Rowling is trans-
phobic & Harry Potter is anti-semitic & clings
to upper-class privilege. In ripples, I seek more than
ripples. I find more ripples. Sometimes I find God.
Ripples find more ripples. Sometimes I find God
in the cherries we gather. Takes my breath away.
Night shifts food about. The agreement is
to ring & go before the somebody inside
the door opens. Today, a parcel was delivered
to me, perhaps by stork. A couple, 86 & 83,
respectively, speak in the same breath of
hope – their newborn great granddaughter
might visit today. I learn your week consists
of waiting for my call. Again, we talk about
how loud the clock tick is & loss of breath.
Your late husband who loved fixing things,
how now you hold your breath to hear him still,
still tinkering, as the rooftop lets the rain in.
Children chase butterflies. Groom their wings,
ignore the girl on the corner who is crying.
Today white funerary flowers were delivered
to me, meant for the people opposite. We were
awkward. Debated the wording of the handwritten
note, the way poets do, putting in an absent full-
stop. How we control our endings. When I am six,
I am told, say goodbye as if we will never meet
again. Whatever it is you have not resolved,
resolve. It will haunt you. Remember, the night
is full of ghosts, trailing their loose ends. Across
the road, we talk in order to talk. Of the best
of Masterchef. That red dish with the meat in it.
In it, how good the taste of pomegranate is.
How good the taste of pomegranate is
to the girl who is tearing up beetles wings.
Her toys are fat stones & bits of string
she finds on King Cross Canal. School is
out for Spring. Summer. Forever. Jack
the skeleton who lives in the closet is back.
Together they travel to Pre-Corona-Land,
where playgrounds are still open. The slide
collects little children whose parents do not
yell, do not go near each other. Maintain
distance. What is distance in the sandpit
of can I use your bucket & you can use my
spade. Where imagination is the memory
of mud pies. Taste them. So cold. So wet.
Taste it – delicious – so crunchy & fresh
punctuates days, like sin, which is why
mealtimes are sacred. You are old so I
am busy not thinking about it. You talk
of things that will not change. The tree
trained against the wall can never be
the thick oak in the middle of the plain,
but it may bear the sweetest fruit. The
boy without feathers will never fly, but
perhaps he’ll climb the mountain. How
time takes from us all we have & gifts us
back crinkled cheeks, saggy skin. The mid
day sun is all the more dazzling as it declines.
Where will you go? I wait, patiently, to know.
Maia: I grew up between Oxford and Mexico City, and began writing poetry in Massachusetts, USA. My poems have been published in Magma, Brittle Star, Blackbox Manifold, Dust Magazine, Stand, Colorado Review, The Missouri Review andThe Carolina Quarterly, among others. I was shortlisted for the 2019 White Review Poet’s Prize and the 2020 Mairtín Crawford Prize for Poetry, and commended for the 2020 Geoff Steven’s Memorial Award. My poems have been anthologized in Un Nuevo Sol: British LatinX Writers (Flipped Eye, 2019) and Field Notes on Survival (Bad Betty Press, 2020).
These poems are taken from a sequence of 19 sonnets, written over lockdown. Before it all began, I went to visit my parents for a weekend, taking one change of clothes. On the second day of my visit, lockdown was announced and so I stayed until mid July, borrowing my 15 year old sister’s clothes as mine were all in my home in London. This was the first time in 8 years that I had spent an extended period of time in my parent’s home and with my three younger siblings, now so much older than when I left. It made me think a lot about what home means, as well as community and safety. I hope that collectively we can imagine kinder ways of caring for each other and living together.