The World in Lockdown People's Poem (Merseyside)

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WORLD IN LOCKDOWN

 

A patchwork-style poem written by the people of Merseyside during England's first Coronavirus lockdown 2020

 

 

 

Curated by Barry Woods

Assisted by Michelle Wright

 

 

 

 

(c) Copyright contributors 2020 (listed at the end)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World in Lockdown

 

We're earning our page in World History. 

Evenings of empty silence in the streets,

a fox crossing a carpark, takeaway in her teeth.

Mornings of spaced-out people in supermarket chains -

even our trolleys might be lethal.

Afternoons of taunting sunshine,

cherry blossom escaping along gutters

where cars sleep on their wheels.

Pigeons repeat from the trees

how lost you are/ how sad you are...

And Nature's smile seems sinister

like that phone call in the night.

We're earning our page in World History

or a chapter, crammed cold with statistics.

 

Locked down, locked up, locked in,

landlocked, luckless, forlorn, forgotten --

failed tests and temperatures and breath,

left behind while the rest sat still,

broken, bereaved and unbelieved as the bold

wear masks as uniforms and fall faster than us all.

 

Daily the deaths stack up

like a holocaust,

like a massacre,

each lonely corpse

makes a bar graph in the news.

With Covid-19 you die alone

tended by masked strangers.

We cannot visit you

to say good bye.

And so we say: "stay well",

speaking it down the phone,

signing off a text.

Stay well, stay well ...

oh, please, stay well.

 

Before the storm of silence

we danced and played and sang;

the endless days a playground

from which hope and laughter sprang

...who knew it was so fragile?

the thread on which we hang.

 

They've closed down the restaurants.

They've closed down the pubs.

They've closed down the coffee shops.

They've closed down the clubs.

They've closed down the system.

They've closed down the hub.

 

It declared war, locked down our communities,

selected victims at random – our loved ones:

elderly, vulnerable, those who care and serve

on the front line, those who can't or won’t stay

home; prepared to punish human innocence

of forgetting to wash hands, touching a face.

 

It's like a movie?

No, worse than a movie

because movies only last a couple of hours;

our Contagion might play for another year yet

and I don't think we'll be sitting quietly

with extra large buckets of popcorn.

 

Empty parks, streets, shops,

Saturday felt like Sunday.

She wandered in the silence

deciding to look within

after looking without

in search of peace, tranquillity.

 

Like surgeons

we arrive in masks

fading into silence while others

brave the polluted air,

once happy in our crystal worlds.

Years of social distancing

turn us into reserved quiet people

absorbed in our Isolated worlds,

our ghettos of empty dreams.

 

If we can stop the traffic,

silence every fierce machine,

shut down the pubs and restaurants

to save ten thousand lives

what can we not do

to save the world and every creature in it?

 

In Parliament today the ministers for misery were heard

to say that every grim assessment now seems optimistic.

Talk of tests and antidotes, resuscitation as a lover might a kiss.

No wheels are turning in the factory. In empty offices the coffee

freezes in the cup. There are pigeons in the meeting rooms.

 

No other way but desperate and awful measures such as these

can only serve the long-term good. Our million minuses  their

promise of a modern plus. The corridors despair, the broken desk,

the upturned chair. Birds sing that did not sing, a fox has ambled

on the motorway, and fields awash with unpicked fruit.

In almost summer now the promise is of never autumn, never

winter but resplendent flowers in the possibility of spring.

 

Caged and contaminated

they are living out final days in squalor,

stacked up on top of each other,

waiting for the heartless chop

of a stainless steel cleaver.

And it's the suffering

that makes the meat more tender.

Is it any wonder virus has jumped

from animal to human

in this environment?

 

Is it sinking in yet?

Like the sinking feeling in your stomach

that doubles you in two making you want to retch.

Are you taking it in?

Like the massive gulp of air as you struggle to breathe,

perhaps your last breath. How vital your health is

like, perchance, as if your life depended on it.

 

Silence in the garden: No bells ringing.

No greetings. No children

burning off energy the adults don’t remember ever having.

No stragglers, rushing from the late bus.

Today, in the never-empty life raft of St Nick’s, Eucharist is said

to the red light and black lens of the video camera, streamed to Liverpool

living rooms. The breaking of the bread larger than life

on 60-inch plasma screens or blurry on iPads propped on quilted knees.

 

I saw it from my kitchen step:

a knee, in the window of the house

over the wall. Someone in there

has moved the bed so they can see

the laburnum tree, so they can get

more air when they are gasping.

 

We see the faces of:

the dead,

the dying,

the crying

of celebrities trying,

of politicians vying

to remain relevant.

Under silent flight paths, the people lay

in a still sleep of forgotten dreams;

waking to birdsong and bluer skies.

And soaring high, held in the moment

seagulls soared free

white wings outstretched, seeing all.

 

The windows are full of rainbows;

children have scrawled them on pavements.

In this spring of birdsong a silent

menace lurks the not quite empty streets.

What we mostly notice is the quiet

as we look for bright colours in the sky.

 

The threat is masked on every face

as social distancing takes place.

We stay apart, we isolate,

we follow rules and ruminate;

and as headlines shock from every screen

we fear the peak of Covid-19.

 

There is something missing from the river, now cold-shouldering

the empty shoreline with its silence. Sea air cools my bedroom window

as I watch barren waves and think of the Mersey Ferry marooned at its berth,

weighed down by those lingering gossamer anchors

which also anchor me to this place, this house, this room — I sit adrift

behind a window, sending up unanswered flares

from an ever-shrinking spit of land.

 

Cherry blossom time

in Covid lockdown time;

branches sway as blossom falls,

radiant pink, white sun-kissed blown.

Delicate petals meander without sound

echoing quiet streets with not a soul around.

 

Sun explores curtain cracks,

lightens my eyelids, gentles me awake.

Seconds tick peacefully. Heart racing

I remember, danger lurks outside.

 

From the uncomfortable brown couch, I watch from the window

a robin flutter from branch to branch

of the same blossoming tree. I can’t help

but think how that robin is like me, shuffling back

and forth from room to room. The robin flies away into the blue sky,

but I’m still sat here on this uncomfortable brown couch.

 

My heart beats irrationally at this cocoon,

smatterings of guilt besiege my distaste for this doom;

oppressed by an expedient imperial decree,

a moral tightrope of equilibrium and instability.

 

In the silence she heard:

birds sing,

trees move,

the footsteps of strangers

trying to reconnect

with nature, with each other.

 

The empty streets are a comfort at first,

Slow and quiet combine for a steady recovery from stress.

But as days give way to weeks,

we worry what the stillness might breed

and if we will be strong enough to face the world

when the streets are full again.

 

Wash your hands before you start eating;

avoid a shake when you are greeting;

sing Happy Birthday twice in a row

and down the plughole the germs will go.

 

Shutters slam down on the service industry.

Some staff are made redundant

while others get furloughed;

a catastrophic loss of jobs, and a tsunami

of Universal Credit claims.

 

Out of this madness

a far greater thing will come:

solidarity.

 

Confusion is shrouded in safe isolation,

friends and family wrong side of the river,

laughter's on hiatus this summer

but rarely has the world took stock of its hurt.

Our chance has arrived to grow closer.

 

We hide in our toilet paper fortresses,

wait for government to release us

from our diet of tinned soup and Netflix.

 

We scour the kitchen for scraps,

forage cupboards for crisps,

find only tins without labels.

Best before dates can now be stretched;

soured milk is better than black coffee.

 

Beyond the gate with a hint of fear

tonight the great excursion.

Prepare to cross the great frontier

in an atmosphere quite Cistercian.

Outdoor shoes bow tied in the dugout

for the wheelie bin's weekly walkabout.

 

Covidiots, they were out in full force today

thinking 31st March was April Fools' Day.

Half hour queueing at Asda outdoors,

several crimes committed, spreading their spores

winding around the makeshift maze,

ignorant people coughing and avoiding your gaze.

 

The distance between us is only two metres,

a broom’s length, a door’s height, a few inches taller than you stand.

From two metres I can hear you tell me how you are holding up;

I can watch you pay for your weekly essentials;

I can listen to the redundant loose change

clanging hopefully in the pocket of your jeans.

Growing thick in the space of our short distance relationship

I can feel these two metres

of not touching the dry skin between your fingers as we lock hands.

I can feel where there is no pressure on my chest from yours,

where no chin rests heavily on the crown of my head,

where I cannot feel the tickle of a long exhale of breath in my hair.

From two metres I can see your strained and earnest smile

as we say goodbye. A broom’s length between us, and more.

 

Save the NHS, save the nation;

don't abuse the pandemic situation.

Be proud, be profound; stay locked down;

show some love and respect for all around.

 

Clap for us on the frontline;

we are the healthcare workers.

We are the doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers.

We cannot stay at home.

 

Another day unlocks another night. Eyelids half-locked, I like the way

the dusky shower stall unlocks my body, zip it carefully, scarf up

before unlocking the front door to a blue unlocked sky, buds just unlocking

in the trees. My little dog greets unlocked birds and cat with unlocked glee.

Down on the beach, unlocking her leash unlocks something in me.

We paid on sand, unlocking energy and tears for kith and kin, the species

I'm locked in, sickness of all description. Locks lift and drop, padlocks

and keys twisting in me. When night unlocks the day, it's a relief.

One prayer unlocks before I sleep, the Beatles' Let It Be.

 

The Grand National run like a new computer game –

simulation controls the day.

You've bet. They're off!

Jockeys nod like joysticks.

There are no horse-neck views

only virtual hoofprints on Melling Road.

The race gears up over Becher's Brook

furlong after furlong, the last group gathers pace.

Potters Corner takes first place.

But no buckets of water over foaming horses

no trainers tugging, hugging

no betting shop bookies.

Instead, this race is run for charity, against

a virtually impossible disease.

 

Before the storm of silence

we danced and played and sang;

the endless days a playground

from which hope and laughter sprang

...who knew it was so fragile?

the thread on which we hang.

 

When the classrooms were empty, the lessons began:

homework replaced by things done together,

consoles switched off for baking with mum,

Facetime with grandad the new social media.

And with this new normal, in a world lay shattered

a generation learned what really matters.

 

Silent in so many ways,

both the threat and the passage of days.

Two sides to the face of our times:

calm and worry – the price of our crimes

against the meant evolution of man,

without flames of greed to fear and to fan.

Lessened choice a novelty now –

soon a freedom, if we just take the vow.

 

On rooftop, silhouetted against azure sky

he sings his melody amongst a chorus of delight.

Does he miss the speeding cars, the vapour trails,

feel the struggle of isolation, heartache and despair?

Or more in tune with the determination, care and love

that carries on the warm April breeze.

 

 

'Oh my god,'

he says scratching his wall with metallic nails,

the last breath of the last human on earth

while a happy boar

is cheerfully strolling down the main road

finally revenging them all.

 

The future denied visitors

who looked forward to seeing a ghost town;

the virus chased back into cells or rooms

not showing fingerprints. Classification reduced,

dormant, calculated, kept distance;

live to hear this silence broken.

 

Pressing her lips against the screen, she signed

imagining the kiss she hoped to give him

one day.

 

My metre and more for good measure

seek something akin to their kind

as touch goes on hold for a while.

They meet with your distance in leisure

and reach for expressions that bind

as much can be held from a smile.

 

We would not stop, rushing headlong into disaster;

disaster came, and now we must. We are constrained

by law to read, to connect, to sit in our gardens at dusk

and truly hear the loveliness of the world with which we gambled.

 

It's not that I don't feel devastation personally, you see

I've lived distracted by life's difficulties for too long.

So now that I feel some joy in stillness with them,

it's not that I'm selfish, nor forgotten deaths and key workers,

but somehow you brought it, this shift that was needed.

And I'm left grateful for the reminder that I am capable

 

The conspiracy theorists go at it:

"Orwellian state is here!

It's a shutdown orchestrated by the ruling classes

with every TV channel and newsroom infected.

People wake up and listen to us!"

 

The paperwork to sign off;

certificates with names blank,

notes passed underneath desk,

burning landfills of tears confessed.

 

Fragility of human kind

laid bare by mother nature

as she seeks recompense

for years of abuse,

slowly equalising the balance

as she has often before.

 

 

On the edge… of Coronavirus:

 

normal

is a lost word

when the world is upside

down, crushed, confined and infected

by fear.

 

On the edge… of forgiveness:

 

kindness

soothes Brexit wounds.

As London’s Great Fire purged

plague-ridden streets, lockdown caring

heals hate.

 

2020 started off like any other year;

celebrations with mates and a nice cold beer.

Just look at us now; the world in a spin;

everyone in lockdown. Go out? It's a sin.

 

"That you, son?" he whispered, lying frail in the bed,

"I knew you'd make it, you're such a good boy."

Eyes remained closed in a motionless face.

"You're not alone, I'm here," the younger man said.

That was the signal, permission was given;

he held his hand, feeling the life leave the body,

"I'm here," he repeated, 'til he knew it was over.

She waited outside; his face changed her world.

"It should have been me, not you, there at the end."

"I know," he agreed, "I was not trained for this."

 

Three lecterns await the deliverers of rules and fate;

death in numbers disturb our waking hours, invade lightened sleep.

On Dashcam journeys along familiar roads we are taken

to haunt our memories and await the tumble weed.

Into Critical Care we follow, uninvited, unprepared.

A surreal space mission surrounds, but with a human touch.

One hundred years ago, they did not view, only vaguely knew

in a century we will all be gone, but will still be judged

reality from science fiction, and we are in it.

 

Blue masks on faces

and bluebells ringing a warning at the feet

of those who dare to venture out

for their daily exercise.

 

Oratories of birdsong freely fill

our absence while we,

enclosed in dread,

walked encased in Lockdown's fear.

Open your window

capture hope!

 

Under turbulent April skies

I tame the world before my eyes,

watering plants that slowly grow;

caring for things that I can sow.

I tend the land beside my door

to calm the places in my mind

that cannot leave the world behind.

 

While nature keeps going

we stop and hold our breath,

still and torn

among tulips erect.

And in the lurking vastness that crashes us

he's sieving the soil to find his mother's ashes.

 

The spinning wheel is halted, the music stopped,

all urgent trivia forgot

bestowing on us each the gift of time

to spend it how we choose

and respite for a while,

for those who’d start a family in a bird’s nest.

 

Things to do, things to do,

in the Homicidal Trump-Style Flu.

Card-games, card-games, games to spare:

there’s Patience and there’s Solitaire.

Deal the hands and count the scores

at Beat Your Neighbour... Indoors.

 

 

I am a writer:

self-isolated for years.

Used to it by now . . .

 

Tongue tied and wide eyed, as children

feeding off a diet of newspeak

drip fed into our veins every hour, every day

no escape from the media megatron.

And as truth and speculation mingle

how do we know we are still real?

 

Stands sit still in the quiet air thinking

where their supporters have gone.

Pitches left pristine, unchurned by studs,

are glad of the break they’ve been getting

and above the silence, the club’s crest hangs

waiting for life to return.

 

Mother Earth is angry.

She is staging her own rebellion

against greed and exploitation

of humans, animals and the planet.

The virus came from Wuhan

where dogs endure a short life of hell,

sentient beings sold in live markets,

kept in filthy and cruel conditions,

doomed to die a cruel death

so they can be consumed as meat.

Our elite masters thought they had it in the bag;

the stage was set for ultra capitalism

then came the floods and the virus.

God is angry.

 

What's there left to say?

In these uncertain times

‘Stay safe and wash your hands’

We can't go back to normal.

 

After six weeks

I see cracks breaking open my face

in the mirror. I peer in

at my old self, my old life

before Coronavirus.

 

All this talk of temperatures, I’m breaking out in a fever;

I’ve been stuck inside these four walls and this cabin’s getting smaller.

I’m at home with my thoughts and they’re far from feeling homely;

there are people in the house, but I’m starting to feel quite lonely.

The constant talk of death is hanging over my shoulder;

each morning I wake up and hope that this is over.

 

A starry night, we can all now see

as the world lies in the shadows.

Nature rearranges the landscape

an abundance of new life swims free.

Let us colour in the clouds, cover

the bruises from the war, and sing.

 

Going out is now only in memory:

a rowing boat on Southport’s marine lake,

the splash and danger of a novice capsize;

pretending not to hear instructions.

Waking today, how I would long to hear

“Come in number nineteen, your time is up!”

 

How will they know the air is fresh,

the bird song pure and frequent

when fledgling wings fly from the nest,

as they, brave souls are laid to rest.

 

Life was busy, perhaps too busy,

but now the pause button endures.

The days were full, the hours crammed,

but now a purpose needs to be found.

So let us imagine, let us plan, let us care,

when we press play, let us make the world fair.

 

Silent, invisible, of no earthly form,

no emotion to speak of, not cold and not warm;

indiscriminate, indeterminate, implacable as the void,

taking loved ones from families as lives are destroyed.

But it shall never defeat us, this horror we face

for we stand together as one human race

 

Before the storm of silence

we danced and played and sang;

the endless days a playground

from which hope and laughter sprang

...who knew it was so fragile?

the thread on which we hang.

 

Looking back on it, or when asked were you there,

exaggerate. Say everywhere vermilion globules

spiked with yellow horns invaded everything;

our hands, our lips, the tears in our eyes.

Say thousands upon thousands died.

 

Say lessons set, at last, were learned. Our secret

was we never wanted what we want but wanted

wanting in itself, our luxury, to be deprived.

And when asked where you were, exaggerate.

 

Say locked away for safety in a room. Say

the ghosts of shoppers lurched the eerie streets.

Say animals came out from hiding in the dark.

Say oceans turned from grey to blue again

and stars were weightless traceries of light.

 

Looking back on it, or when asked were you there,

Exaggerate. Say sudden catastrophic interventions

drew attention to our catastrophic lives. Say

interaction was a telephone, say love a kiss of glass

against a screen, say millions upon millions

sort of died.

 

 

 

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The World in Lockdown People's Poem

 

(c) Copyright contributors 2020

 

 

Contributors in alphabetical order

 

David Bateman, Sue Bordley, Dave Bradley, Gladys Mary Coles, Paddy Clarke,

Ceri Courtenay, Kevin Cowdall, Hugh Davies, Ethan Doyle, Bev Ellis,

Susan Gavaghan, Judith Grier, Ali Harwood, Paul Hodder, Kemal Houghton,

Victoria Inyang-Talbot, Aileen La Tourette, Dave Lawrence, Alice Lenkiewicz,

Dawn Lorimer, Sharon Lowe, Fred Lynn, Christine Steliana Mihailovici, Tristan Marshall,

Jean Maskell, Alan McKean, Scott McKenna, Elspeth McLean, Aaron Murdoch,

Carolyn O'Connell, John Oldershaw, Hayley Peden, Lynn Pegler,

Anna Pendleton, Al Peters, Serena Piccoli, Lucy Pickavance, Megan Quick,

Greg Quiery, Liam Randles, Katie Redmond,

Claire Rice, Jason Richardson,

Jenny Robb, Megan Robinson, Alison Schultz, Leslie Such, Andrew Talbot, Katie Taylor,

Judy Ugonna, Alexandra Vick, Jo Vick,

Brian Wake, Paul Waring, Jack Williams,

 Lorraine Wood, Barry Woods, Michelle Wright.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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◄ Liverpool's Capsule of Culture remembers 2020 with the World in Lockdown People's Poem

Comments

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kJ Walker

Tue 25th May 2021 08:06

Brilliant to read as a series of individual poems, or as one massive poem.
Whoever stitched them together got the order right, because it read so well as a whole.

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