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.


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.


Sometimes I fly away,
take a perch on a high branch,
a telegraph pole,
look out.

I turn my back
on the messy brood.

Someone’s speaking in halting Italian,
there are wargames and workouts
and sudden bursts of laughter
and the smell of baking
and someone wanders in to chat
and I love it. I’m treasuring these days –
these impossible, improbable,
unexpected days of closeness
that have landed in a time of gentle
distancing. We’re watching movies,
making bread, and talking talking talking.

Sometimes I fly away,
find a high place,
watch the sky.

A poem about solitude in lockdown, for Bjorn at dVerse. 

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.