Three Poems

By Ella Walsworth-Bell

Bodily contacts

In the last six months
I have been illegal
I have touched other people
Not skin-to-skin
Not breath-to-warm-breath
But illegal, notwithstanding
Four times in all

Once, a hug
When I cried
By the kettle
With a colleague
At work
‘My son is so, so hard to live with’
‘I know’ she said, pulling the door closed
And folding me in her arms in the quiet cloakroom

Once, on a doorstep
With a friend
When I cried
For an hour
Over cups of tea, in her kitchen
She made me endless cups of tea
Which I sipped, but it wasn’t enough
To compensate for the raw, red wound
Of the death of another friend
Too young, too sad.
I wiped my nose, let out my sobs
Dry-faced, on her doorstep
She swept me up and I breathed into her hair
Releasing all the hurt and pain

Once, at a nice, socially distanced
Garden Barbeque
Where the kids played happily on the grass
And we grown-ups drank beer by the fire
Remaining a discrete spears length apart
In the dark, in the twilight
‘Time to go’ I cried
And ruffled the wrong child’s hair
He jumped away, eyes wide in shock
His hair was smoother than my son’s messy curls

And one last one
With my mum
When I cracked a joke, came too close
After a couple glasses of white
After a nice meal at night
Where the chairs were set apart
And we’d chatted and laughed
I elbowed her
Warm and friendly
She stood away in shock
Then smiled.

I used to clean my oven

I used to clean my oven
Used to wipe it, just for fun
All those stinking chemicals
I’d scrape it till it shone

Now, in lockdown

No-one minds it when its filthy
No-one’s coming in that door
I could use the sofa as my toilet
I could shit on my floor

I won’t be wiping windows
Don’t need to scrub them clean
My neighbours are eighty-four
They won’t be looking in

I’m sitting here, I’ve brushed my hair
I’m in my daughters room
I must compose my background
Because- I’m using zoom.

Burying our colleagues

Front line
Death row

We’ll be burying our colleagues
Face first in the fresh dirt
Open-­‐mouthed behind a clean mask
Plague doctors, tears fall
Sneezes torpedoing

Oh, the cough comes first
The incessant death rattle
Hacking from the ventilators
Noisy coffins, power-­‐hungry

And hot, so hot
Hot as a tropical market
Hot as a swarm of bees in June
The stink of last nights’ sweat and shit

We’ll be burying our colleagues
Wearing their scrubs and stethoscopes
Spiky with intubation
Open-­‐mouthed in terror

We didn’t sign up for this
No Hippocratic oath could force
A march towards the wards
Aprons worn as shields
Blue badges as battle plumes
Gloved and honoured

We leave our children behind
Faceless, hidden in our homes
We will lose their grandparents
No time for crying now

We signed up to help them
To learn, to medicate, to obey
To nurse, to care, to follow protocol

Not to run, shrieking and gasping
Howling, horrified, hands outstretched
Into the breathless jaws of death.

Ella Walsworth-Bell is a speech therapist living and working in Cornwall with her family. She writes short stories based in myth and magic, exploring mental illness within rural communities. Her son is autistic and she struggled to educate him at home during lockdown. 

I didn’t write poetry before lockdown. I wrote stories, plays, and was working on a novel. When suddenly I found myself at home: in my nice middle-class house and garden, with my friendly chickens, and my kind family…well, I couldn’t write a thing. My relationship with my children suffered as I became their exhausted teacher; I worked full-time for the NHS also, which was stretching the hours in each day far too far. Thankfully, a bunch poems sprung into my head in the small hours, and I hope they strike a chord with others.

Notify of
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Glen Hughes
Glen Hughes
11 months ago

I liked I Used To Clean My Oven, it demonstrates a big lesson that quite a few of us may have learned during this crisis, there are more important things in life and that of course is people.

Let us know what you think of the Poetry and Covid project by completing this short survey… thank you!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x