Two Poems

By A. C. Clarke

Thirteen ways of looking at lockdown


Two men in high viz
arms measuring the distance
between their two mouths.


Just past the cemetery
lost gloves pinned to a wire
like slaughtered moles.


Cool of the morning
blaze of birdsong; every
headline slaps me awake.


A boy cycles widdershins
round the small yard
a clock going backwards.


At the wood’s edge
a litter of cans
empty packet of Viagra


rotten wood sprouts toadstools
bells sing blue, mulched
in a compost of small lives.


VE day. Holiday streets
carless. Cheerless.
A blackbird sings briefly.


The day’s curve flattens out
under a sky uncertain
of its next move.


This tree’s heavy arm has snapped
at the shoulder
dark gape in smooth grey bark.


The land is in grief dry
as a Covid cough.
The sun will not lock down.


A child in a surgical mask.
What’s strangest is
it’s no longer strange.


Winds flailing the tree out back
rain greeting the earth
like a long-lost friend.


Ramsons flower in the woods
clusters of stars beside
shadowed water.


after ‘Hiatus’ by Ely Shipley
Somewhere a dog is yelping.
Traffic on mute
doubles the effect.
Each lighted window seems
a shrine to the departed.
A magpie’s rattle
voices nothing human
and all my words
drop from the page withered.
The sky is dying
along with the year.
I have watched this oblong strip
of shifting light for years, as one
chained to a sickbed might view
the flow of days …

But I am free to move.

Who else is watching by a window, unseen, unheard?
Who else welcomes the sound of a bolt drawn back
a car’s sudden rev
a bass drum like the slow beat of a heart?

A C Clarke’s fifth collection is A Troubling Woman. Drochaid, with Maggie Rabatski and Sheila Templeton, was published in 2019. Shewas shortlisted in the Cinnamon 2020 Literary Awards.

Thirteen Ways borrows its title of course from Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and in form it is haiku-like but not all the individual stanzas are seventeen syllables. It is made up of disparate but somehow related observations made when walking around Glasgow and its parks when taking permitted exercise during the first lockdown, though it also includes observations from my study window like the second poem Quietus,written just before Christmas, when Glasgow was already in Tier 4.

I often use others’ poems as a springboard, following the line and stanza structure and seeing where it takes me. This one, as it says, was prompted by Ely Shipley’s Hiatus, a poem which has quite a picaresque feel to it and lends itself to discursiveness. The first draft was meandering. This is, I hope, more focused. I had no idea when I began that I would write yet another lockdown poem but so it turned out.

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