Three Poems

By Steve Pottinger

Hometown Madonna

walking into town
to spend her morning queueing
like everyone else
she crosses the ghost of a rail-line
where freight trains used to run
passes one roller-shuttered shop front
after another, the same fluttering notice
closed on advice of government
keeps six feet or more from everyone

waits outside the post office
to ask for ten pounds on the leech
and a second-class stamp,
notices how many folk wear masks now
thanks god the weather’s not damp
because waiting outside the chemist
for a repeat prescription of happy pills
would be nothing but miserable in rain
is passable in sunshine

queues again outside the bright-lit
barn of the supermarket
the old ones say was built
on the bones of the factory
they knocked down before she can remember
her feet are swollen, the small of her back aches
the child is pressing on her bladder
and it feels like every time it moves
it makes things worse

more uncomfortable than ever
this wasn’t how she imagined
life would be and she curses
her luck, the virus, this new normal
where shops not clubs have bouncers on the door
everyone hitting the dance-floor
in the canned veg aisle to a soundtrack of
our colleagues are working hard
in difficult circumstances…

inside, she dances round strangers
with a trolley and a plan
tries to keep her distance as best she can
chooses soups, baked beans, sliced white,
no booze, not this week,
biscuits, chocolate, crisps, the usual,
sets her sights on the checkout
and then the playlist picks a tune
she thinks her mother used to sing

here comes the summer!
here comes the summer!
here comes the summer!

and Chantelle wheels back into the shop
for one more thing

later, when she’s lugging
everything back across that ghost of a rail-line
she will stop for a moment
catch her breath and think
how some days hope
tastes of unexpected memories
is a child moving inside you
or how it can be the promise
of a family tub of strawberry ice-cream
sitting at the bottom of a shopping bag
waiting

and she will pick up her load again
and walk home, humming.

Dreamtime

two months in, he can barely remember
a time before, has pared life back
to weekly shop, the bins, a newspaper
that yellows on the kitchen table
puzzles half-finished, headlines unread

he sleeps late, wakes early
snoozes in the afternoon
his hours, it seems, all out of season
the structure of his life dissolving
like tissue paper in long-awaited rain
lacking any rhyme or reason

he talks to ghosts
swears he rolls over in bed
and finds the weight and heat of her there
reaches out to nothing but cold memory
switches the light on, creaks downstairs,
stands in the back door
letting the night in
and waits for sunrise

by day, he shares crumbs
with the blackbird and robin
who come into his kitchen for food
names them, tells them stories
of his childhood, chuckles
of course, that were before your time
is rewarded with birdsong

twice he has snapped to
standing at the window
clasping a mug of sugared tea
he can’t recall making
and wouldn’t drink for the life of him
has poured it away,
boiled the kettle for coffee
found himself later sipping
once more sugared tea

those first long ago weeks
he thirsted for the bar, for evenings
marked by the smooth glide of a pint
now he watches bees get drunk on nectar
loses himself in the slow rhythm
of poppies opening
and the antics of squirrels

in the early hours, alert and sleepless
he walks the town as streetlights
click off one by one beside him
holds his breath as the dog-fox
trots home to curl and snooze and dream
so close he can hear
the pad pad pad of paw on pavement

in the east, colour starts to bleed into the sky.
he wonders if he will ever quite return
from this new normal.

Stay Safe

the news from here is nothing much
the days drift by like dreams
a never-ending stream of sundays
and rumours of pasta
while mapmakers draw new worlds
where each of us are islands,
always two metres apart,
and there be monsters

I whisper to friends: stay safe, I miss you.

online someone always knows
a bloke from work who has a sister
who’s the neighbour of a friend
who swears martial law is coming
or that all of this will end
on the third Thursday of next month at 3 in the afternoon
because it’s written in the stars
who has seen spaghetti and has a photo to prove it

I’m writing to friends: stay safe, I miss you.

we sleep in silence
and wake to birdsong
from dreams of journeys
a sky bright with the absence of din
last night we laughed so hard
we could barely breathe
this morning I woke with tightness
in my chest and a fear for the future.

I’m texting to friends: stay safe, I miss you.

one day the pubs will throw open their doors again
and the first one won’t touch the sides
I pray I’m there with you, buying the next one
getting on trains, going anywhere everywhere
eating in restaurants, walking home under the stars
asking if life could ever be better
i have never been much good
at wearing a mask

I’m speaking to friends: stay safe, I miss you.

Steve Pottinger is an accomplished poet who has performed all across the UK. His sixth volume of poems, ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ (Ignite Books) is out now. www.stevepottinger.co.uk 

hometown madonna – a poem of hope

dreamtime – this poem explores the sense of disconnection that so many people reported when the usual routines of life were disrupted by the months-long lockdown of Spring 2020

stay safe – this was written in the first few weeks of the pandemic, when everything was up in the air, panic buying emptied the shelves, travel abruptly stopped, and friendship became more important than ever.

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