Two Poems

By Helen Deal

Birthday Blues

You’re on a beach for your birthday,
a yawning, yellow Cornish beach
with picnic tables set like teeth in the sand.
A beach with unsnagged sky curving over
the headland, though I imagine the glass-sharp
April air must be flaying your flesh.

Look for us at the pub on the beach you’d said
– we’re there from noon…

So I text – ‘I see you!!!!’ – with a smiley face
and your table of six wave to The Watering Hole
webcam, faces fogged but hands flapping
like wind-whipped birthday bunting.

‘Waving back !!!!!’ I joke, and do it –
though in truth I’m drowning in the grey
of far-away home working, screens and Zoom.
Seeing but not seen. There but not there.
I sign off with a line of LOL emojis,
cake and flowers, champagne flutes…

You bless me with a whole red row of hearts.

Later your posts are littered with laughing photos,
and bold words of how your outdoor
lockdown birthday was ‘best yet!!!!’
I ‘heart’ it – add a camera-eye
screenshot to your collection and caption:
Seeing but not seen. There but not there.

I don’t say I combed that beach for hours
plucking pleasure from your day like pearls.
Or how your red row of hearts, my oldest friend,
sailed me so close to the rocks I cried
a bit for better birthdays shared.

What did you do in the War Grandma?

Milestone birthday, I spent it by the bins
in the front garden. The afternoon was soft focus,
tongues of sopping grass licking over the toes

of my best black boots. February it was, guests stood
muffled in coats and clutching plastic flutes in mittened
hands. ‘Put on a coat’ they said – but I was showing off

in black velvet, a fluffy electric-blue boa,
thinking aloud it might be fun to be carted off
for having an illicit lockdown gathering of more than two

– me being such a contrary Aquarian ‘60s wild child.
From the frozen boot of the car we lifted bottle
after bottle, popped fat corks all over the lawn

handed round chocolate cake and lemon drizzle
on a tray, no crisps because there the madness
of ‘double dipping’ lay. Hand gel, two meters apart, laughing,

laughing, laughing. I had made a strict rota — ‘come in twos,
from one o’clock ‘til four’. Then came a point when it went to shit
and none of us cared less anymore.

I read poetry aloud to the elderly, the lonely or those with dementia, and can vouch for ‘poem power’ and its impact on wellbeing. Some scientists say poetry literally causes goose-bumps!

Lockdown one, two, or three, semi lockdown… we lost count and we definitely lost heart, even when life opened up in periods of the so-called ‘new normal’. I wrote the poem ‘Birthday Blues’ for my friend, on an April 2021 day when I was feeling discombobulated and sad about all the missed occasions caused by Covid.

In February 2021, I myself had marked a big milestone birthday by the bins in my North London front garden, hence ‘What did you do in the War, Grandma?’. My partner took bottles of Prosecco from the boot of the car and my friends stood two meters apart in mittens – an illicit gathering, but people passing in the road forgave it and we all laughed a lot!

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Guinevere Clark
Guest
3 months ago

Love how these poems start so vividly Helen. Enjoyed these two alot! 😍

Helen Deal
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Helen Deal
2 months ago

Thank you.

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