By Guinevere Clark
Oystermouth Cemetery, Good Friday, 2020.
We count the yew’s trunks,
talk under its unshakeable shade,
about years. Thousands of them –
graveyard statues in late sun.
Loss is calm here, named, welcome.
Fear placated as we flow
through half-shaped ferns, robins
and wrens, carved marble crosses
and seraphim wings.
A maze of crumbling
on bluebell slopes. Poems
and epitaphs on tipped stones.
We hover to read, briefly, here
on your first trip through death’s
Hiding in yew’s heart, we watch
graves of garlic slide in slow-motion
and the giant monuments,
crowd like bees to our tree.
Leaps and Estimations
Happy, Happy Birthday, baby! A world.
Bury into the lock. Dirty kisses. Dropped
fever. Crown us with spring’s puff and fervour.
Evolution. Mortis. New family. Split
skin. Plastic will save us. Push a window,
sing, clap. We know each other more now,
in the dry wi-fi, war of stalking coughs.
Queen Gaia is breathing, washed.
Un-clocked days. Bare, warehouse prayers.
Gold dust. Hospitals. Stop. Matrix
blocked. Spit, for revolution! Masked.
Fact check us – we’ll be with garlic buds,
a new totem pole in the woods. Epicentre.
Lungs resolute tug. Hug in hand, risking love.
of Newton, home schooling
on the lawn. She stacks maths,
finishes phonetics, rights
the loops and circles in the sun,
grapples the bike seat
to raise it.
We need a man, said her son,
and often did.
Maybe, she whispered,
filling another saucepan
with dandelions for honey
from their planet of lawn.
Perfect primary, yellow frills
gilding to fizz in the moon-pan
like love. Hot lemon halves
dancing in the treasure.
This is what she saves her jars for –
symbiosis, his absorption
in sweet creation, the viscous pour
and simple explanations.
Guinevere’s first collection is Fresh Fruit & Screams (2006), Bluechrome Press. She is a nurse and belly dancer on a Creative Writing PhD at Swansea University exploring motherhood and sexuality.
I had more time to reflect and write during the pandemic but this was tempered with illness and single-parenting duties. However, I am proud of these poems and feel they all show a different angle to what was an unforgettable phase of mothering, nursing and writing.
Oystermouth Cemetery, Good Friday, 2020 – this was written in response to a local walk taken in April while the majority of the world was in its full lockdown. I took the walk with my 8 year old son. My asthma had been terrible since March, likely Covid-19 related but no tests were available when I first had symptoms. We’d take short local walks as it’s all I could mange without becoming tight chested. I was on steroid tablets at the time and needing my inhaler six times a day, I couldn’t sleep flat due to shortness of breath. It was an anxious time full of uncertainty and as a single mum I feared for my son if I were to die. Although we had lived in Newton for several months, we had never discovered our local cemetery with its beautiful, grandiose yet tranquil character. Death felt so close to me at this time and I almost turned back when we descended into what felt like a vast, hidden museum-like space of gloomy, cold headstones and statues. Death to many was presented as a risk and also was a reality for many at this time as loved ones were lost or ill, the news gave growing statistics of deaths but no names. I was touched by the peace in the cemetery, almost as though death lost its fear. I felt peace away from the struggle of illness and how the cemetery personally recognised the deceased by name. It was one of our most calming walks, ironically, and where I felt deeply touched by the presence of grace and the earthly cycles of life-death-life. Time took on a new sense and showed in many ways: the ancient yew, the sliding graves and ‘crumbling’ stones and also in the fresh bluebells of spring. I felt new hope and also an eternal and mysterious spirit, a vastness. I too imagined all the associations of Jesus’s death and eventual re-birth as we’d happened upon the cemetery on Good Friday. I felt a sense of the afterlife in the cemetery, a journey deeper than we’d imagined when we set out with a bag of crisps each and a bottle of water.
Leaps and Estimations – this was a poem eventually refined from an early pandemic stream of consciousness into a sonnet type poem. It was triggered by the chaos and doubt of the early pandemic – socially and personally, around the time Boris Johnson was telling us that we needed to wash our hands and sing Happy Birthday. Then a news story hit of a pregnant nurse who lost her life to Covid-19 but the baby survived. The world felt like a living hell, yet still we were reminded how well the planet was doing and babies of course were still being born into ‘dirty kisses.’ The poem ends on a familiar walk I took with my son into the solace of the woods and the idea that even our human contact felt forbidden and risky, we were potentially, as we all were – viral #epicentres’.
Queen Dandelion – this poem was inspired by the garden space, so much more occupied in the pandemic. Too, people were turning to nature, the basics, to find sustenance and nutrients, as though nature, be it icy dips in the sea, vitamin D from the sun or more simple outdoor exercise on bikes would cure or ease the virus. The familiar pandemic home schooling scene starts the poem with edgy commentary on my single-parent status from my son! The poem shares a touch of magical realism as the dandelions are alchemised into honey and we connected deeper in symbiosis to our little ‘planet of lawn’ finding play, beauty and creativity away from the confusion and complexities of the time.