Poetry Blog: Isolation

Welcome along to another poetry blog. I won’t bang on too long about this one, because I’ve blogged a few times recently about the fact that we’ve been isolating for ten days after my son and wife tested positive for Covid-19. And this is where these poems have come from. Simple enough.

What’s safe to say though is that this post is very much a first for me. This post contains three poems, something that I’ve never done before in a single blog. I had intended to try and write a poem a day for the time that we were isolating, but quickly realised that what I’d end up with was probably two poems that I liked and 8 absolute duffers.

I ended up writing three poems, all connected to our isolation period. My first one came about for a combination of reasons. Firstly, I was feeling quite shocked about the two positive tests that had happened in our house and while spending the first couple of days largely on my own, had a lot of time to think. Secondly, the Facebook group I formed last April called Lockdown Literature, was somewhere where I hadn’t posted anything in a long time, so when I wrote the first poem quite quickly as a one draft piece, I wanted to post it there as a way of informing friends of what was going on. Only when I wrote the second one did I have the idea for the blog. The third one? Well, that was the result of a head full of ideas and the need for one more poem to complete the hat-trick!

Here’s the first poem, written shortly after we’d found out about the two positive tests.

Ten Days

We've done this so many times before
that I perform a cartoonish double take
as those two lines appear where there should be one.
And although one is barely there, it's still a second stripe, an alarm that stops rather than starts.

A moment stretches out in front of me 
as I struggle to react, to comprehend, before the
adult in me reaches up, takes over and my mind
begins to crunch reluctantly through the gears
that will help me protect you.

More tests are booked, the coming days organised, rest is ordered, distance
kept.

Ten days to get through. Ten days to check on you both as you sleep. Ten days to worry on the inside, but paint a calm picture on the out.

The second poem is about watching my wife through our dining room window as she sat outside in the fresh air and what we laughingly refer to as sun in West Yorkshire at this time of year. It was a few days into our period of isolation and a relief to see that she had the energy to go out, a relief to see that she was smiling once more. It had only been a matter of days that she’d been ill for and it would last a short while longer, but given the death toll and the horror stories that we’ve seen and heard throughout the pandemic, it was a lovely moment.

Fresh Air

It's funny how, despite the myriad cures and treatments 
prescribed by those who know best,
we still insist that fresh air is the cure for all that ails.

I watch you both, furtively through the window,
part concern, part inquisitive and
partly just because it makes me smile.

Despite the late afternoon sun dappling the table
you're wrapped up for winter, for a moment comical,
with your hood up. But then your vulnerability 
returns in sharp focus and I'm stopped in my tracks.

Fresh air won't loosen this deadly grip,
won't work any kind of magic. And so, I monitor,
shoulder the burden, cook beige teas and hoover to stay busy,
keep my mind from wandering too far down darkened streets,
watching from a window as you shiver but smile.

My final isolation poem is one that I fear may come across as pretentious. That’s definitely not the intention though. It was born out of the fact that we’ve had to work hard to avoid each other over the last ten or 12 days. There have been lots of moments where we pause and indicate ‘after you’ or just make eye contact in order to tell the other person which direction we’re headed. It’s been a kind of family friendly isolation and it just occurred to me that it’s been a bit like one long dance. This has mainly involved myself and my wife and it’s been never more apparent than last thing at night when we clean our teeth. We have a small bathroom and so have had to move around carefully in order to keep a safe distance from each other – a kind of cross between an amateur ballet and something out of a fight scene from The Matrix. I suppose we could have just brushed our teeth at different times, but then I couldn’t have written my pretentious poem. Anyway, here it is.

An Isolation Ballet

Little do we know it, but we've performed some kind of ballet this last week.
Two parts grace, one part paranoia, several parts a combination of
fatigue and sleepwalking.
We've picked a path around each room and each other carefully, reluctantly,
traversed two metres apart performing the every day 
routines and collapsed in synergy, separately
at the end of each day.

The discipline has been exhausting as we plie and pirouette 
our way through each hour of a ten day performance of avoidance
in search of some kind of security on our sanitised stage.
There are strange frozen moments, essential for safety, adding
to the drama and prompting the odd grin or burst of laughter at the 
sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Sometimes we don't even need to look as we move,
cautiously yet gracefully navigating space, just sensing the other 
and squeezing ourselves into a safe space.
This is not truly a ballet, a thing of beauty, but what we deem
necessary, vital as we dance apart, to stay together,
to remain safe.

So there you have it. The end to a difficult period of time in our house, although I think in terms of actual health it’ll take weeks, perhaps even months to adjust properly. The positive tests came at a time when I thought the threat had probably passed. I wasn’t ready for them. Not that I think I ever would have been, but at least when we were in the eye of the storm of Covid, say in the period between May last year and January of this, I had at least primed myself to expect the worst. Lately, as things have returned to being quite close to some sort of normality again, I had allowed myself the luxury of thinking that perhaps we’d got away with it. And of course we hadn’t.

I hope the poems haven’t seemed too indulgent or exploitative of the people involved or the situation. I think I just had to communicate what was going on somehow and writing it down is good when you’re being kept away from everyone else.

I hope you enjoyed what you’ve read. As ever, feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Poetry Blog: ‘Crossroads’.

This is a poem I wrote at the back end of last year after a bit of a setback, careerwise. It’s not important what that was, but it hit me like a train. This was unusual for me, as I don’t brood on things too much – apart from football, stupidly – and always try to take the view that ‘these things happen’ and that as long as I can move on with life, I will.

However, this was different. When I was growing up my own father went through career problems at a similar age and as a kid in his mid-teens, an age when these things tend to leave an impression, I watched him suffer. His situation was far more serious than my own, but career-wise at least, he never recovered. He was out of work for a number of years, having successfully fought his old employer in court, and it all combined to reduce him to someone who was constantly angry and who must have felt that he’d never have hope again. So, faced with the news that I received, it was a worry to say the least.

Here’s the poem.

Crossroads

You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father before you.
Was he older? Younger? The memory vague, but those days branded on to you,
although the details fade. Until now.

Two envelopes, weeks apart, that plunged you not once but twice
to depths you hadn't thought were there anymore.
To questions about your worth, your place, your existence.

Dark thoughts return, like a playground bully, arm round you, sinister smile,
pouring poison in your ear. You've not thought like this in years, 
not imagined you'd think like this again. You do not know which way to turn.

The news leaves you like a puppet without a master,
limbs useless and flat, splayed out across a table thinking, like a coward
that perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, they'd be better off without you.

But just as this is not a real option, this is not a real crisis.
You wipe away tears, busy yourself, think, confide in those you trust,
love, value. There is even a small sense of liberation.

Slowly, you crawl out from under your stone and although you feel
that age is cruel and experience no longer valued, this is not the end.
You stop short of full on Gloria Gaynor, but you will, in fact survive.

You find some focus, tell yourself that you are not him and that
you will find not the other side, but an other side, that the confidence,
however painted on it may be, will return.

You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father
and like others, worse off, who felt that their whole world had
collapsed, sometimes even because it had.
But every crossroads has a way home.

The poem is about how bad it all felt. I genuinely felt like I’d let my family down. I felt that I’d completely failed and I felt extremely angry at that. The feelings that the whole situation prompted in me took me by complete surprise and for a short time I couldn’t see the point in anything anymore. As I usually do, I internalised everything and even though I eventually discussed it with my wife and a few trusted friends, the extent of my thoughts and feelings weren’t revealed. Until now, I suppose.

Eventually, after a few weeks of brooding and, dare I say it, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I’d regard myself as quite strong, mentally and I could see that what had happened could just be an opportunity.

For me, there’s no point in sulking and I won’t allow setbacks of any size to hold me back for too long. Not that I’m hell-bent on moving too far forward, mind. I know not everyone is like this and I wouldn’t ever criticise or question anyone’s right to feel any way that they want, but as a grown up with a wife and family I made a conscious decision to get back on with life, hence what I hope is an optimistic ending to the poem.

It does worry me that my age is now a barrier. I feel that my experience isn’t particularly valued and that in education there has been a shift in thinking. If it’s not shiny, smiley and youthful, it probably doesn’t have what it takes. Call me a cynic, but often these new approaches from people who’ve had a job for no more than a few years are just approaches that have been done before, but wrapped in nicer paper nowadays. At my age my work feels like a competition to see who can smile the most and shout the loudest. I’m not a very good smiler or shouter either! But, as the poem hopefully shows, I’m not prepared to go under just yet!

I’m definitely at a crossroads in terms of work, age, the way I look, the things I do, the company I keep and much, much more.

With work, I can’t decide whether I want to slow down or head for a new challenge. Or just to keep doing what I’m doing, which is something I love at a place I love. With my age and a notable birthday on the horizon, I need to choose whatever I do carefully; not just in work. In terms of my looks, my hair is greying, my body not quite as responsive as it once was, my face a little more haggered. I won’t be reaching for the Just for Men and won’t resort to some form of cosmetic surgery, but sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and wonder where the fresh-faced 17 year old me went. And I’m always wondering, does my bum look big in this!

But I’ve realised that there’s no point in worrying about it. Just choose a road. Eventually I’ll find the right one. And whichever I choose, I’m lucky enough to have family and friends to rely on.

I hope you liked the poem. As ever, I’d love to hear what people think, so feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry Blog: Red Kite

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved watching birds. It started when, as a kid, I helped a friend with his birdwatching badge for Cubs and was hooked. We spent a large chunk of an entire summer wandering our local area, spotting birds and recording them in some kind of journal. I didn’t get a birdspotting badge because I wasn’t in the Cubs – too cool for school from an early age, me – but it didn’t matter. I was hooked. As a family we’ve been RSPB members for years and are fairly regular visitors to our two local sanctuaries.

I first noticed ‘our’ red kite a couple of summers ago. I think I first spotted it over our football pitch while taking training with the junior football team that I coach. I didn’t immediately know what it was, but was confident enough to hazard a guess, especially when I saw the red hue of some of its feathers in the light. I looked it up in our RSPB big book of all the birds (not it’s actual name) when I got home and confirmed that it was a red kite.

I then started to see what I assume is the same bird – I don’t imagine we have a gang of them locally – going past our house and it seemed to be around the area on a regular basis. It may go missing every once in a while, but we still see it fairly regularly. It feels like we’re forever chasing it round, in pursuit of the perfect picture, but sadly it seems quite camera shy and always seems to avoid our lenses! On the occasion I’ve written about it flew right above me while I was in my back garden. I ended up writing two poems about it, which I’ll explain later. For now though, here they are.

Red Kite

On a cloudy weekend morning, pegging washing on the line, something catches my eye. A dark shadow drifts and looms above me, dominating the sky. I sense drama, threat, majesty. Looking skyward I am at once transfixed by this giant, dwarfing nearby gulls. The threat remains, intensifies in fact for a moment, as the red kite drops a little in the sky, perhaps spotting me and weighing up his chances. Uninterested though, he drifts on, effortlessly, scanning the land beneath for a moment of opportunity.

I continue to gaze, rapt, in awe as the light above picks out every speck of colour on this enormous wingspan. Looking as if painstakingly painted by the careful brush strokes of an artist they propel him over houses in seconds. Scanning the landscape for something there is no sense of urgency or desperation; only a calm grace that means that although my attention has been grabbed and kept, probably no one else has noticed. No call, no hovering, no swoops or aerobatics – the sky is yours and with one magnificent movement you are propelled forward and out of my sight. The memory, however, will take a little longer to leave.

Red Kite

A cold, wet Saturday morning’s predictability is interrupted joyfully by a shadow overhead. Spotted from the corner of my eye and then focused on fully with an upturned look, the red kite drifts majestically overhead, the king of this sky.

Given the sight, my smile is easy and wonder assured, and yet, it is momentarily replaced by a frozen, fearful gaze. We lock eyes and the hunter briefly drops towards the ground, perhaps spotting some hidden prey, but for an uneasy moment leaving me wondering if I am the dish of the day.

A gentle swat of the giant wingspan and it has passed over my head and onwards. The bird bored by the human; the human still rapt. For a second or two sunlight bursts through clouds and the kite is lit up from above, its vivid rust coloured tail and white feathers in deep contrast to the coal coloured tips of its wings.

All too soon it is gone, leaving behind a sense of loss that will battle with the brief flutter of excitement for the rest of the day.

I ended up writing two poems about the exact same thing. It was only seconds, but it made a real impression on me. Our red kite was possibly the closest I’ve ever witnessed and I got ridiculously excited. How I didn’t drop our clean washing, I’ll never know!

The first poem was written straight from my laptop – a method I don’t usually use. I’d usually scribble ideas down in my notepad first, but this time felt compelled to just write and the laptop was the first thing that came to hand. As a result it was a poem that I came back to and re-drafted a couple of times; again a process that I don’t often bother with. I’m usually happy to scribble out the odd word and leave the poem where it ends. This time though, I made a few visits to the laptop over a period of days to try and get the poem I wanted.

The second poem came as a result of not being sure about the first. So for that one I just scribbled it down in a notepad. I must have felt happier with this one as looking at it now, there are only 5 words crossed out in the entire thing.

Having read both poems back, I’m now puzzled by which I like best or even whether I’m particularly happy with either one! So while I hoped to create something that I was happy with, I’m not sure I succeeded! Anyway, I hope at the very least, I managed to get my excitement and sense of awe across. As ever, I didn’t have a camera or my phone on me so I couldn’t get a picture to remember the moment, so I hope my words do it some justice; especially as there are two attempts at conveying it! I’d be interested to hear what people think.

Another poetry blog – from sheds to ducks. The natural next step.

Another poem from my Lockdown Literature group today. This one came about around the start of lockdown, when it was all new and in a way, quite exciting. You know, despite the terror and all that less exciting stuff?

I’d noticed lots of people on Facebook and Twitter posting stuff about nature ‘returning’ and it made me chuckle a little bit. Especially the really earnest ones where people were claiming that nature was re-claiming the streets or teaching us a lesson because, as humans, we’d got it all wrong. It was none of this. Animals have been adapting to their surroundings for longer than we care to imagine. Most likely it was just that things were quieter and animals had noticed and got a bit bolder about where they were wandering and when. Lots of people seemed to be reacting quite hysterically and yet the only evidence I’d seen at the time was the video of some pigs walking through the streets of Bergamo in Italy.

We have bird feeders at the back of our garden in the trees and while we were probably seeing more birds than usual, I was yet to see an eagle, a condor or a Terrahawk (I know that they’re fictional by the way – that was the joke). Admittedly I’d gained a rat in my shed (sadly for comedy purposes, not my kitchen), but other than that, nature was definitely not trying to teach me a lesson by parading up and down our road. And so, I began to think about how ridiculous the posts could get and whether people might start to outdo each other. From this came the poem that follows.

Guess who’s back?

It started with those cute pigs in Bergamo.
There were probably some ducks somewhere as well. There’s always ducks.

And then…

A giraffe stooping to get into Bargain Booze,
An ostrich in Hyde Park singing the blues,
An antelope out for a jog,
A lion combing his mane with a perplexed hedgehog,
A wombat on a BMX giving a backa to a pikachu and the pikachu’s listening to DMX and just staring hard at you.
Nature’s back.

In the park, after dark there’s a gathering of starlings,
They’re meeting up with collared doves and riding penny farthings.
Nature’s back. And it’s brought hipsters.

Foxes sketching landscapes while hunt beagles go climbing at Go Ape.
And of course, there’s meerkats trying to sell you insurance while panda bears do triathlons to test their bear endurance.
Out the window there’s more nature hourly,
We’ve even had a brontosaurus in our cul-de-sac in Morley…

While we’re locked down, sick with cabin fever ready to attack,
Comfort yourselves folks, nature’s very definitely back.

Apologies if you find that one a little bit cynical. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, by July we’ll be overrun with wildlife carrying placards and marching through our city centres declaring that the humans should be made to pay! Maybe wildfowl will start looting supermarkets and electrical wholesalers after hours and setting light to stuff. And then I’ll be sorry, won’t I?

Anyway, I hope you like my silly poem. Feel free to drop me a comment or click the Like button. And if you really like your literature with a large helping of nonsense, the feel free to Follow. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Lockdown Literature – my stab at a poetry blog.

 

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Shortly after our state of lockdown was declared I received an invitation to join a group on Facebook. A friend of mine – Helen, an Art teacher – was setting up a creative group for people to post their art work. It seemed a good way to help squash lockdown boredom and I had been fairly keen to start sketching again for quite a while. My daughter is a gifted artist as well, so I thought it would be nice to post some of her stuff. I could also involve the kids through Art lessons during home schooling. So off I went…

A couple of days later and having watched numerous people posting their artwork I had an idea for a literature version of the group. If people were avidly sharing their drawing and painting, surely I could get some to post poems and writing in my own group. After consulting my friend Laura about whether it was a good idea, I formed the group, invited a ton of friends and Lockdown Literature was born.

It had been a while since I’d written any poetry, but the group inspired me. It wasn’t long before I was being kept awake by ideas and lines from potential poems.

It was on the very afternoon that the group was formed, while pegging my washing out on the line in the sun, I found myself staring at the behemoth in my neighbour’s garden. Bigger, cleaner, tidier, better than mine. What I then wrote has no intellectual value whatsoever. There is no literary genius here or any great amount of thought. It’s not any kind of metaphor for anything else, just a poem about sheds and me feeling a bit jealous. The result of my envy – a silly, sarcastic and frankly daft poem – is below.

My Neighbour’s Shed

My neighbour’s shed has electric lighting.
It has those plastic boxes on the wall containing nails, screws, hooks and all manner of shediphanalia.

My shed is packed with football gear.
It’s a mess and makes me feel like a total shed failure.

My neighbour’s shed contains a high-viz jacket.
Placed neatly round he has a vice, a work bench, a grinder, a sander and drills, drills, drills aplenty.

My shed has some shelving full of spiders’ webs, grass seed, wild bird feed and a stain on the floor that’s a bit cementy.

My neighbour’s shed is a hive of activity – just like good sheds should be.
It’s been extended – by him, the smart arse – and it’s made safe by alarm led security.

My shed has bikes balanced on one wheel perilously, a lawn mower jammed underneath a Halfords roof box and it smells of whatever the opposite is of purity.

My neighbour’s shed is a lockdown dream. Clean, ordered and full of interesting tools. The biggest tool in my shed is undoubtedly me.

I hate my neighbour’s shed.

So, there you have it. My first poetry blog. I will post other poems and give people a little bit of insight into what I was thinking when I wrote them. I think I mainly write things that are supposed to be mildly amusing but some are actually quite serious! As for what I’ve just posted, I’d be interested to know what people think, so feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!