By Giles Goodland
It is May or April, I lost track. Buses
run mostly empty. The bee-loud cars are scarce.
Men draw their toddlers to the edge of the pavement,
the old raise collars, pull scarves across their faces.
I sidestep dog walkers and their leads.
An empty police-car flashes at the park
gates. I run past a mother leaning towards
her child who is running towards her arms
as seagulls settle the unplayed pitches,
note the shoal-like evasions of families
detour through low trees where spiring flies
dangle bristly legs. I press index finger
tightly to nose in the hush-hush gesture:
snot-rocket followed by spit-bomb, strings
extenuate between lip and lap. I
contain billions, spiked contradictions.
A thrush under my feet could have been a leaf, but
I decide it was a thrush. Thought is law.
A man with five carrier bags lifts a can of
Special Brew; I circuit the park and he’s not
moved. With twilight mist lifts like tissue-wrap.
Distant headlights throw my wedge of shadow:
then the mist is over my head, is cloud.
Past the abandoned golf-course, the tow-path.
Low-flying geese ripple the water, their feathers
swash. The swans make quibbly wine-tasting noises.
Coots squabble into the night, tired party-goers.
On the bridge I move over the city
my ephemeral eye: underlit clouds,
the light-built trees. Unsettlement upon
the treacly surface skits and scatters, light
the consistency of spit or spirit.
Lights flash in the stairwell of the locked hotel
as, returning, under the moon’s new weight
silent ambulances ply from street to street.
It began with this powerless miserable
feeling of clothes-shopping with a partner
and walking back in soft dark rain.
Or it started on the train. A sudden
tunnel. A phone-illuminated face.
On days like this I can’t say if the race
is to the bottom or just to the office.
I sat and watched the clouds’ assembly-line.
I imagined the managers not in their
real faces but images slid across
the desk with no feature that could hold.
It was as if the train that I was on
was on fire, but did not stop. Smoke filtered
from the front carriages but still careered us
to our once wished-for terminus.
Outside the public toilets, the bushes
ate their light-lunch, the bee completed its
circuitry. The light caught on the hill.
People cough and wonder if they’re ill.
The wind changes, so we take a hammer
to the wind and out of the pieces we
fashion the children who are missing eyes.
It is not in the morning that they rise.
The singed bird foretells the song. It calls out
our names: a long list that takes it its whole
life, and is still unfinished.
The machine keeps chirruping as I get dressed.
A runner is moving very slowly against
the street. I move to another window
to see her more clearly. Death is a loved
child whose hood reverses, who has knives.
The angel heaves the door at lunchtime.
It is near evening in the land of poor
alphabets. Butterflies fill the streets.
The moon budges its head over the fence.
We, thought’s instruments, play hard.
How fine the shadow of the spokes of the
bicycle, outstretching on the paving
stones, radiant with negativity.
Time is replaceable since it has no place.
The 5 am call is silent, or contains
only the echo of your own hello?
You make a mental list of the people you know
and strike them off one by one.
Come to think of it (and think is one
of the few things I can actually do)
one good thing from the crisis is spam phone
calls have shrunk to virtually zero.
I’ll stay at home and become a hero.
I’ll phone my mum and field her question
about why we don’t come to visit.
Email my brothers to see whose turn is it
but don’t, since we’d be able only to
wave at her, and she would not understand.
I explain once more about the virus.
But I forget she has Alzheimer’s.
Woke up too early to see why I woke,
restless. The turf surface of the earth rolled
back to show its veined dermis. What was not
old was broke. What was not broke was cold.
We are entering an unmarked tunnel, the
four of us, in the dream, but not out of our
world, rather under it. I am confident
where the tunnel leads, but there are no signs.
The first death of distant friends, on facebook.
The matter of gloves and masks. Whether to
wash each piece of fruit, each box.
How to look at the people you avoid.
Today the struggle, the map against world,
the overcoming night, search for virtual work
the unceasing crowds over the bridge
mechanical laughter of the mating fox.
Slugs answer with their bodies, a foot in
the door, a head. Rhythmic roar from Heathrow
has left not silence but a new lens,
a sense. The clear air shows a new way to know.
Fields make dawn, dawn piles ash.
The moon washes its boots by light of day.
Most consequences are unintended,
each story was a person who is dead.
The phantom object is the missing son
the son who misses a contained mother.
In her curtained institutional room
she believes she is somewhere/when other.
Because I hold death in contempt, I hold
those dying also. Even the sick, in
some sense, I see how they are failing. They’re
all a great disappointment to me.
Our hands catch the light, it is dead light from
previous worlds but we do not mind, the light
melts on us and having found its object
dies. Watch it hit the mirror and reflect.
On streets where silent ambulances ply
we cannot hear the lung-compromised cry.
The unreachable old are sealed away.
My mother tells me she is not lonely, she says
her three children are with her, in her Home.
She even says our names, and adds dad’s name,
oddly, and then she asks to whom am I
speaking? We are all supplanted by ghosts.
The wind from the clock brings the news, nil is
still nil. Probe the dust in industry and
see its entrails stretch along the canal.
A pair of swans. Congruent with their
reflection each audible stroke slides them
towards the mirror which by striking they break.
All songs lead eventually to a sad square
in a town’s neglected quarter
in which the untended rose-bushes
still give out a scent that no one calls despair.
A girl walks past the window
carrying a single daffodil. She says
I’m not doing that pseudo-relationship thing
especially with everything that’s going on.
Google the figures, the graphs,
The daily death-counts, the rates, the numbers.
The milk is turning in the fridge
the streetlight moves in the strong wind.
Factories cede roof space to starlings,
in walled chambers the ants mass.
Moomin discovers the winter creatures
he never met before and that his family
will sleep for months. I end the story
early and go down to watch the news.
Time is the country you drive through to which
you are foreign, bearing on the roofrack
the beach-equipment you will never or
seldom get to use. The signs are confused.
Here is the news. One half of me suspects that
as we multiplied upon the earth we
invited upon our heads the ruin
of all our houses, the Biblical sea.
The other half of me suspects nothing,
loves the churn the chain of consciousness, being
aware of the morning light unfolding us
then the virtual week’s slow drag towards bed.
The straight-faced anchor does not tell how
a supporting cast of worms removes the dead
crematoria work through the night, work is
empty rooms, rows of blank screens in offices.
If your house was on fire what one thing would
you save? The fire. If you were drowning what
would you say? Water. If you were in a hot
air balloon, what would you throw out? The earth.
What if ‘soul’ were another word for death,
I mean, only in that culmination, outside
time, does a crystallisation take
place, is there a spirit formed, a breath lost.
I like to say all is lost because the tense
indicates otherwise: we have the mouth
which lasts as long as it is possible
to utter. But then, all will be lost.
In the evening we are watching TV,
living on dead metaphor. The neighbours’
fat black cat looks in though the garden doors:
it is comically nervous, senses whirring.
We forget law so as to do what it says.
The river Name has no name, it flows in
its own dark, without break.
We draw from it by means of sentences.
A slug travels my arm. I feel its kiss,
it seeks through tongue and rasp
and sensors to reach me, perhaps carries
me messages in the form of dis-
ease, a sense of growing loss as if loss could
grow, a negative of something not
definable in a graph’s trough or peak
but presented as fact week by week.
The matter of which it is better not to speak.
Answer the boredom of children with games
that bored us, tear away their phones to show
them that locked in our houses we are all
children, frightened of this that we don’t know.
The thoughtless dark. Time, that cloud, obfuscates,
thickening towards nightfall. The rainbow
in the window. We are its precipitates.
Day becomes lost in furrowed cloud, here
we cry out to the driver, this is our stop
but we are not on the bus, we watch
the buses each transport one passenger.
We watch what passes, the numerous
runners, the cyclists, close-knit shoaling crowds
families like repulsing particles
heading towards the park and the canal.
So long as there are shadows guiding us
language, not knowledge but its container,
holds. As long as the song can fill us
further. So long as we have hands to hold
the path back is uneasy, bereft.
This path is not the same for anyone
except it leads no one to the home they left.
Fern-spore, photon, line to other world.