By Sarah J Bryson
Slow down. Take stock of those things which are picking
at you. Get up when you are ready. Clear the diary.
Turn off the phone. Dress in comfortable clothes.
Cook a meal, perhaps, starting in the morning
with the whole day ahead, knowing the flavours
will only come into their own over time.
Home in. Take your coffee to a comfortable place.
Put your feet up. See the world pass, as you stay still
just watching, allowing your mind to be free.
Let the cat relax on your lap and stroke her soft fur
while you ponder a decision, feeling her purr
vibrate back through your fingertips.
Take a deep breath and let it out. Repeat. And again.
Drop your shoulders. Take a meandering stroll and listen
to the birds, notice the season, the glint of cobwebs.
Enjoy the sunset as you sip your drink.
Run a bath when it is dark, and light a candle
to drift its scent as you soak in the warmth
top up the hot water using your toes to turn the tap
and stay, if you want, until your fingertips are wrinkly
and the cat is scratching at the door.
Make your way to bed, when you are ready
there’s no rush today. When you turn out the light
think of a favourite place. Take your time to fall asleep.
Pandemic in the Community
Planning ahead I tell each one that I will ring again before I visit,
just to make sure, and when I do I will ask, ‘Any new fever?
Persistent cough, loss of sense of smell? Are you feeling unwell?’
Unwell, I think, within the constraints of your life-limiting
illness, which is the reason I am visiting, in the first place.
I dress in uniform, and the car is full of PPE, in boxes, and bags –
some I have been provided with, and other stuff I have sent for
just-in-case – masks, gloves, white plastic pinnies -the ‘universal
precautions’- also a face visor, a wipeable bag, and rubbish sacks.
That, plus the usual equipment. It’s just as well I have a regular slot
for on-line shopping. There’s no more room in the boot.
I have worked out a strategy of how best to translate the advice
(dictated by those who are not actually doing it) into practice.
It’s a balance between prevention of infection, compassion
and human dignity. I hope. I get to the door, with my bag
and ring the bell – I want to show my face first and let them see
the fact of a smile before covering it. I step across the threshold
not knowing if this household is a risk to me
or if I am, in fact a risk to them. Time may tell.
Pandemic funeral: St Georges Chapel
The TV shows the funeral as it plays out
its slow drama. I gaze outside. From here
I see, through slats of blinds which slice up
the view, an April day with hard cut edges,
a piece of sky with wisps of clouds,
scarcely a breeze to disturb the trees
with their leaves newly emerged.
The music draws me back: all these people
in ceremonial uniform, the air-force, the army,
slow marchers, pall bearers. Masks for most
but not the choir pared down to choreographed
formation. None of these are included
in the numbers, nor the Dean, leading
or the Arch Bishop, with his blessing.
Outside a sudden flight of birds distracts
my attention. Beyond the fence there’s a field
of oilseed rape, intensely yellow, with a few
white butterflies, fluttering. A slant of sunlight
stripes the carpet with patterns of diagonal shadows.
From another room I hear commentary and cars
from a Formula One race, droning on and on.
Then the trumpeters, bright and shiny, playing
Reveille in formalised respect. All the theatre,
all the pomp but no crowds, no large congregation.
Behind the altar, via the camera’s bird’s eye view
we see how the leaded window lets in light,
filtered though each colour-stained piece,
and there in the choir stalls is the Queen:
dwarfed and alone, unfaltering.
She remains there throughout
solitary in her grief.
An ode to purple sprouting
There are six plants, started as seeds in the green house
early in the pandemic summer, grown there and nurtured
until a few inches high in seeds trays, then individual pots.
‘Plant them deep,’ she was told, later in the season,
‘much deeper than you would think’ – so several inches
of stem buried, she stakes them, and waters them in.
Soon she sees the cabbage whites fluttering
their eggs clustered on the underside of leaves, but
neglected, as life is busy now, her work taking her time.
On occasional trips to the vegetable patch, carrying
compost contributions she sees how the caterpillars
are weakening them to bent legged skeletons.
As summer moves on she ties them in, these reduced
sad looking plants, and adds drinks bottle to the sticks
to rattle, to scare off the pigeons, partial to brassica tips.
Over winter she largely forgets them, rarely troubling
to walk down the garden, but in February snowdrops
and crocus lure her out to look at the early signs of spring
and here, in the vegetable plot the dew-beaded plants
are showing signs of life. New growth, small clusters
of compact hearts forming among the purplish leaves.
Looking around there are other signs. New weeds,
birds singing, an occasional bumble bee, droning
and the winter flowering cherry, having a second flush.
It is almost ceremonial, the first cut of tender stems –
the selection of how high to slice, how many leaves
to take, careful protection of the new sprouting points
and she’ll let no one else cook them. Steamed
and buttered their deliciousness surpasses expectation.
Fly by, April 2021
Pandemic rules still stand:
the rule of six, from a mix
of households – but last time
we tried to eat our supper
outside we got so cold
so we plan a mealtime
move to 3pm, for pizza
on the patio, before the sun
dips down, in anticipation
of another night of frosts.
We pretend it’s summer
for an hour or two, women
in cotton frocks, men in shirts
sleeves, and one man in shorts.
We wear sunglasses, and sun lotion
watch the sky as an unexpected
bi-plane duo flies by. It seems
like a treat just for us.
Sarah is a writer, nurse and amateur photographer. She is interested in words, words for well being, people and nature – and the connections between these aspects of her life.
During the Covid-19 pandemic I have seen how so many people are ‘on-alert’ all the time, and how exhausting this response can be. For some a sense of responsibility to others and neglect of self can then become the norm. Sometimes those caring compassionate people do need a ‘permission slip’ to attend to their own needs. At the same time as these thoughts were in my head a friend offered a prompt for a group I belong to, entitled ‘Sleep’ – and that is how this poem came about.