Afterwards, we became pilgrims

our feet following half-forgotten paths,
our feet grinding sand mud tarmac pavement –
a pilgrimage without a destination –

and, as pilgrims do, we shed possessions,
left behind all those empty things,
stepped out of our concrete boxes
and touched the earth
stepped out of our metal boxes
and nourished flesh

and walked
as pilgrims do
so that our world shrank and grew

breathing more freely with each step.
Afterwards, we became pilgrims,

palms open to the sky,
sailing to new worlds,
walking down those old paths,
forging new ways,
changing the world as we went.

This is for Brendan at Earthweal, who asks “What happens next?”. It feels like the world’s in a bad way. Corona virus brought so much fear and pain, and death, but also a chance to step back and live a little differently. The US is on fire. Governments put the economy before people. Democracy is in a bad place. I have no idea what will happen next, but I hope it’s better than this.

If you like this, and if you care about this stuff, then check out Earthweal. There are some interesting poets there, writing very interesting stuff.

Protest song

The fat god squats
in the market-place
shitting out lies

and we feed him

more he says,

and we feed him

we feed him our hours

more he says

we feed him our sleep
we feed him our dreams
we feed him the swift-footed moments
of our children’s games

we feed him our children


we feed him meadows
bright with flowers
we feed him mountains
we feed him the river
shimmering with life
we feed him the sky


we feed him our souls
we feed him the elephant
the tiger the rhino
we feed him the eagle
the butterfly the bee
we feed him the sweet time
of holding a new-born
we feed him scurrying mice
we feed him the great singing whale
we feed him the ocean
we feed him the scent of bluebells
we feed him the taste of apples
tart in the mouth
we feed him our old ones


we feed
we feed

and the lie he tells us
is that he is real
and we swallow it
in our hunger
to feed

but we are still empty

more we say



Sherry is manning (womanning?) the barricades at Earthweal this week, and asking for our poems of protest. I’m not even sure what I’m protesting against here – it’s too big. I started off with small specifics, but at the end of the day it’s the way the economy trumps people in too many western societies, and the way we have got caught up in this endless treadmill of consumerist crap to feed that economy. Covid-19 has thrown a lot of things into  very sharp relief for me. I won’t go into it here, but I’m interested to see what’s bubbling under.


Snapshot – pandemic insomnia

3am and I’m awake
not even sure what I’m thinking

out there, there are bean plants
unfurling in the dark,
those fat first leaves,

and I’m wondering
what will happen now, and

out there, the stars
are moving in fixed patterns
jazzed by satellites

and I have fragments of fears
and questions
and an emptiness in my belly, and

out there, moths are waltzing
in their crazy dances

and I’m awake
listening to your breathing, and

out there, bats are diving,

and we have no guide,
no rhythm, no pattern –
we are unfurling
fractal humans
seeking a new shape.

Just sneaking in to Earthweal this week – wondering about the future, full of uncertainty. As usual with Brendan’s prompts, my  head is full of half-thoughts and broken images, and a sense of urgency that I find hard to capture.


Oh, the madness of a woman on a quest –
setting forth, to be mocked or burnt.
We do not quest. We are the quest –
my body the chalice, my body the grail.

I worm my way into the story, my belly
the cauldron, my lips temptation,
my virtue is my weakness,

my weakness is my virtue.

My strength is disregarded –
the strength of bearing –
the weight of the child on my hip,
the weight of my own breasts
feeding the world,
my belly

the cauldron

deep magic in the deep cavern
of my body.

Wake me. I’ve been sleeping
for a hundred years now. Chase me
down the wide marble stairs,
recognise me by the thing you gave me –
the ring you slipped on my finger –
not by my face voice hands hips.

Ask me what I want.
Ask me, Gawain. Ask me again.
I’ll tell you: I want sovereignty –
not over you, over my own body,
my voice, my thoughts, my choices.

Oh yes, the madness of a woman on a quest –
walking alone among the high rocks,
through the dark forest,
carrying her banner
stitched with her own name.

Brendan at Earthweal  is taking us on a quest. Last week we established who our heroes are. This week we’re thinking about the quest itself.

Heroes for Earthweal

They told me heroes were broad-chested,
brave. They told me heroes came
on dashing steeds, with magic swords,
to fight a final battle with a dazzling foe.

I’m finding now that heroes come
in different shapes and guises. My neighbour’s one –
handing out flowers, making smiles. I work
with many, keeping going, day after day.
A hero comes with mail, another stacks a shelf,
another steps into a house with smiles
and sunshine, and a plate of food,
a paper mask, a pair of gloves, and love.

Heroism’s something small
and every day. It’s special, but it’s nothing special.

Men brought up without women,
men brought up without families,
men told to button up, man up, step up,
shut up, shut down, calm down –
men taught to deny themselves –
told us that heroes did all that. They built up
heroes in their own stone image –
heroes in uniform, heroes who flung themselves
headlong into the battle –
manned up, stepped up, shut up –
and we believed them.
We lived inside the battle story
for too long. We built walls,
buttressed our lives, shut up, shut down, shut out.

There are things that penetrate –
the smallest things. Viruses, glyphosates, fears.
We didn’t even notice them,
until we were surrounded.

We need new heroes. We are spotting them –
they are the ones with shining threads,
connecting them to others. They’re the ones
nurturing their children, teaching love
and laughter. All those old stories. Feeding us.
The ones finding new ways to love,
new ways to show their kindness. Spinning
new threads. We need connection now.

A poem about heroes for Brendan at Earthweal. If you haven’t been over there, check it out. It’s a space to think about our bruised and beautiful planet, to think about ways of changing things. Every week I think “I have nothing to say about this”, and then gradually something emerges that feels urgent and important. I’m not sure I say anything terribly new, but a chorus of voices saying the same thing makes a loud, compelling noise. We put our words out there, and they make unexpected journeys, journeys we will never know.


I think we’ve gone beyond the place

where maps will help us. From here on in,

we’re fumbling our way through. We’re using caution,

feeling our way, blind fingered. All those little caves,

those dead ends, all those burial chambers,

so small, so snug, so cold. Just fit for one.


I don’t think that there’s a way

of leaving here. Only the way we entered,

and we can’t go back. We must go on,

even though the dark is full of danger,

strange sounds that echo round,

unplaceable. We are unplaced,

displaced, dysplased. We’re looking out

for runes, for messages sent from

the deep places, from the past,

we’re searching for inscriptions,

carvings, paintings – a running bull,

a horse, a hand-print.


Words don’t work so well here.

A lizard curls, a child swings out

over a stream of light.

In every chamber,  there’s a dragon’s egg,

waiting to hatch.

For Brendan at Earthweal. Wondering how we find  our way now.

It’s never silent.

It’s never silent here.
There’s always the clatter
of crates, the clang of cages,
the voices bargaining,
the cluck of frightened chickens,
the squawking
the screeching
the flapping
the scratching
the desperation.

It’s never silent here,
though the nurses wear
soft shoes and speak
in lowered voices.
There’s always the
steady pant
of the ventilator,
the low mechanical
machine hum
the ping
the alarm
that brings them running.
The desperation.

Sherry is hosting at Earthweal this week. She writes about the connection between the way we treat the animals we share this world with, and the great epidemics we have seen. She asks us to consider this connection, but to write whatever is inspired by this.

We all have to make sacrifices, I tell him.

He’s not drinking milk
each morning. Milk’s the thing
that sends us out into the town,
and shopping’s not a pleasure now.

I plan our meals, now, carefully,
avoiding waste. We check the list
before we buy. We’re not so frivolous.

Our pleasures shrink. The sky is blue –
unmarked by plane tracks. That’s
a miracle. We journey out
on foot: the lane is longer
now. Distance is measured
in our footsteps. I have never seen
so many primroses.

I caught the scent of violets and we
spent several minutes looking for
wild orchids, on the lane
that’s usually a conduit,
just the way that takes us
to the road. We bomb along it,
hurrying – we’re always late.

Suddenly, there’s nothing
to be late for. It’s all here –
work, play, music, words.
The home we built

out of the things we loved – that
painting that you bought me,
that green bowl, the table
that we knew would scratch
and stain and bear the story
of our family life – all these things
we spent our whole time
leaving. Well, now we look
at them again.

This poem is for Brendan at Earthweal, who asks us to think about the parallels between this pandemic and climate change. I think he’s right, there are many. I guess what I’ve been struck by is how much less we are consuming at the moment, just in my small household. All those things you buy just because they were dangled in front of your nose are suddenly not there. I don’t think I’m missing them. I do think I’ll have a shopping list at the end of this, but it will be of things I need (all my socks have given up on me) not things I just kind of want because they’re pretty. We’re driving much much much less. We’re walking more. This could be sustainable.



The planes stopped flying.
The screensaver’s changed –
the sky’s a blue dome now,
no chalky scrawls,
no slashed, graffitied lines.
It’s quiet.

The neighbours parked up
days ago. They haven’t left the house
except to walk the dogs.
We call across the hedge,
use WhatsApp.

Me? I’m quieter, too.
Switched to receive. I’m drinking in
the blue, the silence,
soaking in it. Waiting for words.
It’s like my voice is trapped.

All our connections are a little thinner,
I haven’t hugged my mum
for days now. Our words
stretched out, squeezed down wires.

I’m getting scary stories,
funny pictures, angry messages,
from friends I should see every day.
We’re making links, but we can’t touch,
pat a hand, bump a shoulder,
kiss a cheek. We can’t smell
each other. All those subtle things,
we’re down to basics now,
all our connections made of ones
and zeroes.

Still, I can report
the sky is blue,
and the lambs wag their tails
butting their mothers’ teats
for milk. Primroses
still sit shyly in the hedgerow,
and the birds are singing.

The Earthweal challenge this week is “silver linings”. I’m not sure I should be writing at the moment. I think I should just be letting things simmer. There’s a lot going on. I struggled with the idea of silver linings – it’s hard not to just state the obvious. I’m very priveleged – I live in the countryside, so I don’t feel too trapped. The weather’s lovely, there’s lots to do in the garden. So far, this isolation is an inconvenience. I’m very aware that it’s different for lots of people, that there are people putting their lives on the line, that there are people stuck in small appartment with small children going quietly (maybe not quietly) crazy, and my heart goes out to everybody who is suffering in this.


See, we’re the virus. We’re the plague rats scuttling
from place to place, consuming and consuming –
it’s our hungriness, our greed, our endless need
to have and have and have, it’s our stampede
from store to store. Just click to buy. We click
and click and click, and make the whole world sick.
We look for comfort. We bite, we scratch, we swallow –
we eat it all, but still feel like we’re hollow.
We are the plague. We’re killing everything –
burning the grasslands, suffocating
the great wide ocean. We’re the rats
that scurry everywhere, spreading a plague that’s
almost untreatable. We should quarantine
ourselves. Self-isolate. Stop reading magazines
that tell us that we need to self-improve,
buy more, just treat ourselves, equate self-love
with brand new lipstick, one more pair of shoes.
Update your living room! Be a consumer, choose
this, choose that, choose everything. Don’t be satisfied
with what you have. Come on. Just buy.
Buy more. Devour it. Come on, now, you rats,
stay on that wheel. Run fast. Keep running fast.

This week’s Earthweal challenge is to write a pandemic poem. I don’t normally rhyme much, but I wanted to do something pounding, and the rhyming kind of fitted.