By Maggie Sawkins

“At the end of March 2020 the government wrote a letter to the leader of every local authority in England asking them to accommodate all people sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough and to find alternative accommodation for those in “shelters” where they could not easily self-isolate, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” – Local authority rough sleeper accommodation guidance.

This is what I heard:
you are holed up in a hotel
named after one of the first birds

Noah released from the Ark
and, confined to your room,
you are going slowly berserk.

I imagine you cloaking
the corporate eiderdown
around your shoulders,

stepping to the window,
blowing cigarette smoke
into the uncommonly quiet

city street. A strange break,
it must seem, to have been sent
here to protect others

from the virus lurking in doorways.
Perhaps I should write
a letter from the heart,

letting on that I share your fear;
reminding you of the hope
I still have, precious as flight.

But for now, I will include your name
in a prayer to a God I barely
believe in. It’s a start.

Maggie Sawkins is the recipient of the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for ‘Zones of Avoidance’, a sequence of poems inspired by her personal and professional involvement with people in recovery from addictions. She lives on the Isle of Wight.

‘IBIS’ is a personal response to the homeless situation in Portsmouth during the early days of the pandemic. The poem is dedicated to my daughter who has had long term difficulties with mental ill health and substance misuse. At the time of writing she was living rough in Portsmouth. IBIS is the name of the hotel where she was temporarily given shelter.

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Mark Kirkbride
5 months ago

Very moving.

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