Imagination in Isolation
Reflections on the experience of lockdown, in poems, stories and prose poetry.
When the English first started clapping in the street, I didn’t pay much attention. My days at my morning cleaning job had been cut by then, but I still had two days a week and the next morning was one of those when I had to be up at four.
The first wave began to shoot upward, and every morning Natty would turn on the news to cries of ‘Oh my God! How many?’ and she’d rush to wherever I was in the house to report. She’d announce the daily figure as if it were my fault and I should do something about it.
How did I get it?
I am powerful, I should not have got it,
I am powerful, up to now
From blue-eyed soul
and all that jazz
to rhythm and blues
Chris used to like it when I sat on him. But since Lockdown we’re not allowed to sit down, only to wander, in care-home style circles of bewilderment, wondering how we got here, wondering if all this is a surreal dream.
I am not sorry that I hugged you. You were sitting on your sleeping bag, outside Tesco, crying. People walked past you. No one stopped. No one looked at you.
Quite early one morning in the springtime in England, time is rewinding. I am fifty, thirty, nineteen, twelve. I settle at nine with the spool fully unwound. The air smells like 1973.
Let’s face it: you never liked that job. Lizzie said it made her sad that you didn’t love what you did. Yeah, like you could imagine the little girl you used to be, sat up at night, wistfully dreaming of her future, chatting to strangers about insurance.
Following the science, I walk into the dark wood, trusting to white coats and firefly lanterns, downloadable apps, rational explanations, and familiarity with folk tales from a number of cultures.
“To begin your starter, mix 50g flour with 50g tepid water in a jar. Make sure all the flour is incorporated and leave, semi-uncovered, at room temperature for 24 hrs. Naming is optional!”
Why wasn’t SHE at least HELPING? I grumbled halfway through Day 2. She was still his daughter, after all; I stopped being his wife years ago.
I’ve avoided writing about life during lockdown because it felt like giving in to the virus, inflating its status from ‘poxy’ to ‘powerful’. I even took a seven-week tour of Scotland to avoid Manchester life in semi-isolation.
It were never same after they shut it down. The Club closing saw her off, me Mam said, not Covid. From being a little kid, me and Nan had gone to Northside Football Club, come rain or shine. ‘Forty year,’ she’d tell them at the tickets, ‘and I never missed.’
She had just sat down after putting some gingerbread boys and girls into her oven when she heard the voices outside. Her food package from the municipal authority had arrived only yesterday, and she wasn’t due anything from the pharmacy for a couple of days.
On a one walk day, she knelt two metres away, and asked for his hand.
A strange creature pokes its unexpected head through the cracked shell,
Streets blossom out into the night – glowing capillaries in the dark.
I am a street mime. During this time I have no existence.
A strong woman for dealing With the dull pounding Or is it future building?
Boris. Big, scruffy, all that wild, ginger-kissed hair. Strawberry blond, if you like. And the personality to match: bold, recklessly confident. An overwhelming sense of privilege. Why should he have to wait for anything?
Of all the postcodes, this one explains what happens next. The suburb one over (and where is Virgil when you need him?) is full of sunny women, but in Sarsaparilla—since the plague and after the war—the frauen snap like whiplash with divine anger at the simony of their lives.
Here in Hell, every day is the same. We take our sieves to the river, dip them in and run to the jar with the water pouring over our feet till there is nothing left. Then we turn around and do the same thing again, and again and again and again.
I practised the art of topiary on my dog. I made a couple of B cup face masks. Quite pretty! I’m as old as Methuselah and embracing my eccentricity.
Last time, the twenties roared.
They danced and they danced and they danced
Until the tables overturned
Oat gold grass, swathes of rush in purple-brown, the Oare marshes stretch to the horizon.
Living on lockdown with not much to do
The cat, the dog, the me and the you
We don’t have a name
for this new ennui:
tiresome and terrifying
in equal measure.
In school plays of long ago,
we had to look
for gaffer-taped crosses
placing the actors
in just the right spot.
The pond teems with life that has, presumably,
no desire to be anywhere other than here. Trees love it so much they have fixed themselves deep into the very soil of this place.
Those early days silence resolved itself
into a playlist of forgotten tunes
The rain hasn’t let up for three days, and I feel a sore throat coming on. I’ve been careful, wearing a mask the whole time, and those horrible blue plastic gloves nurses have to use. But they say it can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours.
I have no respect even if you are pure and honest,
I have no opinion if you take drugs or not, I have no concern if you are single or a lover
I have no time for your kids or your wife,
but I will catch you if you are not careful.