By Paul Francis
The way it’s supposed to work is this:
she goes into the trenches, fights disease
and thanks to her and others folk get well.
This isn’t Disney. There are some they lose.
The odds are, mostly, reasonable.
She goes back, knackered, to the flat
where, with her mates (both doctors) they relax,
share drinks, swap jokes and celebrate
the buzz of doing something that’s worthwhile.
But now, this bastard screws up everything.
The shifts get longer, and the odds get worse.
More people die. More conversations
telling the relatives their loved one’s gone
and no, they cannot see them, say goodbye.
There’s not the time, the beds, the kit they need.
Those rules about the way they’re supposed to work:
protection? safety stuff? They’ve been ripped up.
On top of that, she isn’t feeling well.
She hasn’t got a fever or a cough.
She’s told they can’t arrange a swab
so she should stay at work. She’s changed.
She’s not a fighter, she’s become
a double agent, nibbling away –
pass on the guilt, contaminate the team.
But getting someone else to swab her throat
puts them at risk. She breaks the rules,
cuts corners, swabs herself.
It comes back positive. That much is clear:
stay home and sit it out for fourteen days.
Her name comes off the list. The pressure grows
on those who still clock in. Odds? Even worse.
Her mates must stay at home. So, worse again.
The symptoms aren’t the start. Before she knew
who has she passed this on to? Who might die?
Where did she get it? Was it her mistake?
When will the questions end?
She’s ninety and there’s one thing on her mind:
to tell the interviewer that she hates
this prison visit, as the plastic screen
cuts off her need to hug, to keep in touch.
Hospital staff, who’ve found a way to work
lodged at the limits of what they can do
wear photos, show the face behind the mask
as if to say “Still me, behind this stuff.”
His relatives observe the rituals –
the sanitiser, gloves and gown – the price
of one last chance to see their husband, dad
fighting for breath, for life beyond his reach.
Despite the sterile cordon sanitaire
these stubborn droplets – Love – can still get through.
“Noli me tangere” (John ch. 20 v 17)
When Covid hits the Tango Festival
what happens? Is it possible
that they will lose the beat?
No chance. The rhythms are ingrained
deep in their bones, the drama of desire:
attracting, tempting, gliding – first apart
and then together, in a groove
that never goes away.
Those haughty shoulders, fascinating hips
with angled elbows, knees against the flow,
the sexiness of tension and surprise.
The hesitations linger just the same
the freeze-frame intercut
into the sequence of the film –
that tantalising pause of
what comes next?
Here’s extra spice, more mystery.
The eyes are still as eloquent
but now you have to guess
about the smile behind the mask.
The perfect poise, that level stare:
you think you’re good enough?
Those flavours, succulent, are still available,
but with the frisson of forbidden fruit.
The way your partner moves, you have to look.
God help you if you touch.
Paul Francis is a versatile, prolific poet active in the West Midlands. He came second in the “Beyond the Storm” poetry competition, 2020 (2,300 entries).
My lockdown lifeline was The Guardian, the paper version delivered every day. This kept me going, and also kept me in touch with the rest of the world. In different ways, each of these poems took its stimulus from there.