By Clare Manley and Emma Claire Sweeney
Bins of tissues,
every cough, sneeze and tear.
chocolate buttons, lemon drizzle, custard creams.
Oh, for lungfuls of air,
Oh, to sew
Swiss chard and hug my friends.
But the gatekeeper
have flit from the brambles
to my belly.
I only let certain people get close,
But how will I endure isolation
all summer long?
One Hundred and Two Days Away
The grass colour-sapped and head-height,
hiding trailing hawthorn and broken glass.
I’m stiff-limbed from strimming and raking,
my hair’s untrimmed.
Picking red currants with friends,
our laughter reaching across the spade-lengths between us.
Pete, a walking scarecrow,
moustache and beard dyed green for the NHS.
The eye sting of onion and runner-bean chutney,
the bitter-sweet smell of loganberry jam.
Sterilised jars to stock the pantry
before the return of wintry days.
I descend hillsides and
emerge from woodlands
before the August sky burns blue,
the air becomes woollen damp.
My sister’s chickens cluck
on their warm clutches,
as I fetch their blue eggs
When the day moults to dusk,
the sheep bleat
for their evening feed
before curling quietly in the hay.
Hints of autumn spike the air –
the slaughterhouse still a month away.
Picnics in the Rain
When the sun is out, our conversations shine brighter.
Autumn creeping close, we climb Cornish cliffs,
our limbs hard-worked, lungs sea-air tired,
our last gasps before the seasons shift.
Virtual discos, my song grows wild,
yet the canal’s edge grips tightly.
For beneath black clouds
my breath labours
my drum speaks,
my muffled taps edging
towards a far heavier beat.
At picnic tables, they open umbrellas,
the people who gather to the beat of my drum,
pensioners, toddlers, addicts and couples long wed,
beneath the hush of the willow, they hear my life thrum.
Clare Manley works for the NHS, and is a member of Sunnyside Rural Trust – a social enterprise for adults with learning disabilities. She has co-created poetry for Arts Council publications.
Clare says that writing poetry kept her sane during lockdown because it gave her pleasure during dark times, and she hopes that the publication of her work might help others to reflect on and communicate their own experiences during the pandemic.