Poems that got me through Corona.
I have been sending a poem a day to a friend of mine who is in the ‘at risk’ category and self-isolating, living on her own and feeling the isolation deeply. It was Jo I wrote the birthday poem for. It was a way to regularly connect with her, to connect with nature and creativity and to have an excuse to wallow indulgently in some extraordinary poetry during lockdown. I started this little daily poem sharing on 25th March – some of them are in the blog already – who would have thought I’d be building up quite such an anthology. In any case, they reflect my mood and my thoughts on my own personal Corona journey. Behind every poem there is a story. I thought I would record them here for posterity (or something), and so that something at least is being posted, maybe this will prompt me to share more of my ruminations too. In the meantime, I’ll share them in batches of 10. So here we go, Day One to Day Ten #APoemaDay. Take your time.
Day One – The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Day Two – We thought We’d Write a Poem by Emma Garrett
Written at the end of an extraordinary exhibition to Kenya 24th February to 4th March 2020
We thought we’d write a poem
We thought we’d write a poem about this special time.
We had no real ideas but we knew it had to rhyme.
We knew it had to capture these most amazing travels.
And make us smile with happy thoughts whenever life unravels.
Our hostess Helen Jackson had the marvellous idea
To pull together Bahrain friends now scattered far and near:
‘Come and climb a mountain?’ she asked us all one day –
Twelve of us gave the thumbs up and soon were on our way.
We bought our boots and trained a bit, to varying degrees,
Escalator Annie was almost on her knees,
Elen got quite dizzy as her route was back and forth
From the Ritz round to the island, east, west, south & north.
Anne gave up the alcohol, a major feat for sure –
Victoria went to Scotland where the air is clear and pure.
The brutal Seven Sisters were Emma’s training ground,
Bionic Jane stuck to her guns, her metal ankle, sound.
Philippa got muddy along the Cotswold way,
Nicki in the Malvern Hills went walking every day,
Alyson went cycling on her ‘e-bike’ fast as poss,
While Tessa, walked the compound with her lovely doggy – Joss.
Scooby & Habibi were Lisa’s training pair –
And Hels & Jacko hiked their way up to the Abedares.
So training programmes all complete, we soon were Kenya bound,
Our children – 42 all told – left scattered all around.
No one can prepare you for a challenge such as this –
No one can explain it, or tell you what you’ll miss.
No one knows how scared you’ll feel when starting on your climb
Or how you’ll laugh, and how you’ll cry
Throughout this special time.
It tested us, our stamina and our determination,
This trip was never going to be an ordin’ry vacation
While 12 went up in spirit, as the summit came in sight
6 of us got to the top – Lenana’s mighty height.
With Kieron, John and Isaac we were in expert hands,
And Bongo’s cooks, were magic as they filled the pots and pans
With hearty warming dishes that helped make us feel strong
As we fought sore heads & sickness – wishing they’d be gone.
Our friendship and our good intent was never in dispute
As we tramped determinedly along the Chogoria route.
How blessed were we to all be here on Kenya’s rugged peak
One thing’s for sure, we won’t forget this quite extraordinary week.
At Soame’s Hotel – we talked at length of what we had achieved,
We drank chilled beer and hugged and smiled and felt somewhat relieved.
The mountain view reminded us of quite how far we’d been
But oh that shower, that Rosé, and those sheets – the best we’d seen!
And so we headed back to town, the end was now in sight,
But not before a final lunch and drinkies – it seemed right
To celebrate our Kenya voyage in this tremendous way
As Nicki, Vic and Lisa headed back to the UK.
6 of us left for the beach when Wednesday morning came
While 3 stayed to go shopping – yes, seriously – AGAIN!
They kissed giraffes then headed off to fly from JKA
While sun kissed palms and cocktails beckoned at Watamu Bay.
And so this little ditty I must bring now to a close,
It’s just a token gesture and I mustn’t get morose.
Suffice to say this trip has been the most amazing time –
12 International Women who really are sublime.
We’re planning our next venture (not quite so high next year?!?)
But we won’t forget our Kenya trip, that much is very clear.
That virus called Corona seems to have escaped a mention,
Which seems a little silly as it caused a bit of tension
We fought off plagues of locusts too (just one to be precise)
And dealt with runny tummies (which really wasn’t nice)
But what this really shows as my poem finally ends,
Is that nothing on this earth will disrupt true lifelong friends.
Day Three – Rilke
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
Day Four – “Blind Faith?” by Philip Le Brocq (my Dad)
Dad has been writing a sonnet a day through lockdown. This was from Wednesday March 25th
The sun still shines out of a clear blue sky
As we face “Lock Down” – tighter than before;
The total deaths are rising; we ask “Why”?
And wonder what the future has in store
The TV Bulletins enhance our gloom
As they list shortages and lengthy queues
Of panic buyers fearing early doom,
Insisting on their right to pick and choose.
But children fill their windows, rainbow bright,
And we light candles too, to show we care.
And ring our friends, and if we can, hold tight
To prove we’re still alive with love to share.
We’ll come together to defeat this foe,
Knowing we can succeed as time will show.
Day Five – from My Brilliant Image by Hafez
A poem for two astonishing friends, Lucy and Elen
I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
Day Six – The Map-Woman by Carol Ann Duffy
I didn’t know this poem – it was sent to me as part of a poetry exchange. It takes the reader on an extraordinary journey
A woman’s skin was a map of the town
where she’d grown from a child.
When she went out, she covered it up
with a dress, with a shawl, with a hat,
with mitts or a muff, with leggings, trousers
or jeans, with a an ankle-length cloak, hooded
and fingertip-sleeved. But – birthmark, tattoo –
the A-Z street-map grew, a precise second skin,
broad if she binged, thin when she slimmed,
a précis of where to end or go back or begin.
Over her breast was the heart of the town,
from the Market Square to the Picture House
by way of St Mary’s Church, a triangle
of alleys and streets and walks, her veins
like shadows below the lines of the map, the river
an artery snaking north to her neck. She knew
if you crossed the bridge at her nipple, took a left
and a right, you would come to the graves,
the grey-haired teachers of English and History,
the soldier boys, the Mayors and Councillors,
the beloved mothers and wives, the nuns and priests,
their bodies fading into the earth like old print
on a page. You could sit on a wooden bench
as a wedding pair ran, ringed, from the church,
confetti skittering over the marble stones,
the big bell hammering hail from the sky, and wonder
who you would marry and how and where and when
you would die: or find yourself in the coffee house
nearby, waiting for time to start, your tiny face
trapped in the window’s bottle-thick glass like a fly.
And who might you see, short-cutting through
the Grove to the Square – that line there, the edge
of a fingernail pressed on her flesh – in the rain,
leaving your empty cup, to hurry on after
calling their name? When she showered, the map
gleamed on her skin, blue-black ink from a nib.
She knew you could scoot down Greengate Street,
huddling close to the High House, the sensible shops,
the Swan Hotel, till you came to the Picture House,
sat in the musty dark watching the Beatles
run for a train or Dustin Hoffman screaming
Elaine! Elaine! Elaine! or the spacemen in 2001
floating to Strauss. She sponged, soaped, scrubbed;
the prison and hospital stamped on her back,
the park neat on her belly, her navel marking the spot
where the empty bandstand stood, the river again,
heading south, clear as an operation scar,
the war memorial facing the railway station
where trains sighed on the platforms, pining
for Glasgow, London, Liverpool. She knew
you could stand on the railway bridge, waving
goodbye to strangers who stared as you vanished
into the belching steam, tasting future time
on the tip of your tongue. She knew you could run
the back way home – there it was on her thigh –
taking the southern road then cutting off to the left,
the big houses anchored behind their calm green lawns,
the jewels of conkers falling down at your feet,
then duck and dive down Nelson and Churchill
and Kipling and Milton Way until you were home.
She didn’t live there now. She lived down south,
abroad, en route, up north, on a plane or train
or boat, on the road, in hotels, in the back of cabs,
on the phone; but the map was under her stockings,
under her gloves, under the soft silk scarf at her throat,
under her chiffon veil, a delicate braille. Her left knee
marked the grid of her own estate. When she knelt
she felt her father’s house pressing into the bone,
heard in her head the looped soundtrack of then –
a tennis ball repeatedly thumping a wall,
an ice-cream van crying and hurrying on, a snarl
of children’s shrieks from the overgrown land
where the houses ran out. The motorway groaned
just out of sight. She knew you could hitch
from Junction 13 and knew of a girl who had not
been seen since she did; had heard of a kid who’d run
across all six lanes for a dare before he was tossed
by a lorry into the air like a doll. But the motorway
was flowing away, was a roaring river of metal
and light, cheerio, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, ciao.
She stared in the mirror as she got dressed,
both arms raised over her head, the roads
for east and west running from shoulder
to wrist, the fuzz of woodland or countryside under
each arm. Only her face was clear, her fingers
smoothing in cream, her baby-blue eyes unsure
as they looked at themselves. But her body was certain,
an inch to the mile, knew every nook and cranny,
cul-de-sac, stile, back road, high road, low road,
one-way street of her past. There it all was, back
to front in the glass. She piled on linen, satin, silk,
leather, wool, perfume and mousse and went out.
She got in a limousine. The map perspired
under her clothes. She took a plane. The map seethed
on her flesh. She spoke in a foreign tongue.
The map translated everything back to herself.
She turned out the light and a lover’s hands
caressed the map in the dark from north to south,
lost tourists wandering here and there, all fingers
and thumbs, as their map flapped in the breeze.
So one day, wondering where to go next,
she went back, drove a car for a night and a day,
till the town appeared on her left, the stale cake
of the castle crumbled up on the hill; and she hired
a room with a view and soaked in the bath.
When it grew dark, she went out, thinking
she knew the place like the back of her hand,
but something was wrong. She got lost in arcades,
in streets with new names, in precincts
and walkways, and found that what was familiar
was only façade. Back in her hotel room, she stripped
and lay on the bed. As she slept, her skin sloughed
like a snake’s, the skin of her legs like stockings, silvery,
sheer, like the long gloves of the skin of her arms,
the papery camisole from her chest a perfect match
for the tissuey socks of the skin of her feet. Her sleep
peeled her, lifted a honeymoon thong from her groin,
a delicate bra of skin from her breasts, and all of it
patterned A to Z; a small cross where her parents’ skulls
grinned at the dark. Her new skin showed barely a mark.
She woke and spread out the map on the floor. What
was she looking for? Her skin was her own small ghost,
a shroud to be dead in, a newspaper for old news
to be read in, gift-wrapping, litter, a suicide letter.
She left it there, dressed, checked out, got in the car.
As she drove, the town in the morning sun glittered
behind her. She ate up the miles. Her skin itched,
like a rash, like a slow burn, felt stretched, as though
it belonged to somebody else. Deep in the bone
old streets tunneled and burrowed, hunting for home.
Day Seven – Invictus by William Ernest Henley
However dark this pit of Corona lockdown feels, there must always be hope
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Day Eight – John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
A blessing I came across – so poignant and pertinent for these times
“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”
Day Nine – A Powerful Army by Matt Kelly
This one was doing the rounds on social media, the poem marches on like the powerful army it describes – I have no idea who its author is
I’ll tell you a tale, that’s been recently written.
Of a powerful army, so Great it saved Britain.
They didn’t have bombs and they didn’t have planes.
They fought with their hearts and they fought with their brains.
They didn’t have bullets, armed just with a mask.
We sent them to war, with one simple task.
To show us the way, to lead and inspire us.
To protect us from harm and fight off the virus.
It couldn’t be stopped by our bullet proof vests.
An invisible enemy, invaded our chests.
So we called on our weapon, our soldiers in Blue.
“All Doctors, All Nurses, Your Country needs you”.
We clapped on our streets, hearts bursting with pride.
As they went off to war, while we stayed inside.
They struggled at first, as they searched for supplies.
But they stared down the virus, in the whites of its eyes.
They leaped from the trenches and didn’t think twice.
Some never came back, the ultimate price.
So tired, so weary, yet still they fought on.
As the virus was beaten and the battle was won.
The many of us, owe so much, to so few.
The brave and the bold, our heroes in Blue.
So let’s line the streets and remember our debt.
We love you, our heroes. Lest we forget.
Day Ten -The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I wrote my dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins at University all those years ago. My Father introduced me to him as a poet when he taught me A’level English. I’ve always loved this poem, particularly when walking on the South Downs, it comes to me out of nowhere….
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.