The Plague Year

Do you remember the year that Mars was bronze bright
In the south and dimmer beside Jupiter was Saturn.
It was Sam, the workaway, who reminded me to
look up, that winter he came to coppice
in my wood. It was just after Graham died
that the virus came, and we learned a new word
Coronavirus or COVID-19

Do you remember seeing on TVs in our sitting rooms
Italian wards with people belly down, dieing
and thinking not us, we have the NHS
Before months later we topped the charts
Of Europe, 50,000 dead.

It was the year of Lockdown. But remember how
we gathered around the vernal equinox.
Dark, nervous piked by doubt, we toured
our solar system in the wood, and Leon sang
and Bo sorted a game which everyone won
It was our last gathering.

It was the year of Lockdown. Empty roads
to cycle on, like the 50’s one said.
I watched the oak from catkin flower to
acorn seed, saw spangal galls form then fall
like confetti. Above us empty skies.
Birds were heard, and heard themselves.
We saw what was in front of our eyes.

It was the year I moved into Magnolia House
with Michael. Together we found our company
for there was No Fear of Missing Out,
no flying off, no cinema, no rendezvous.
Instead we had Magnolia days,
takeaways, dressed up in heals and cummerbunds,
obeyed instructions to plate up, drank Flint wine
Do you remember how the blackbird sang
all evening from the chimney?

It was the year we found a wood a week to walk in,
Played table tennis, met neighbours who were
Filled then cleared the table of stuff, boxed books
for a lowestoft book shop starting up.
It was the year Magnolia was put up for sale.

Do you remember that first zoom,
of seeing Stephen Pinker in our sitting room?
Joined, because we could, by friends in Bulgaria.
From Texas to London, on our family zoom
we dressed you up as dead Inspector Tiger.
Remember all those zooms with Jack, Vic and Tim
Disputing plaque words for the Loch Ness Wellington?
Remember how we took Zooming to the woods,
when Mell as Flora, in her swimming togs
lay under the beech? We saw the inside of kids rooms,
Saw Jon Snows book case.

It was the year we watched Al Jazera,
To hear we were all the same. No German
enemy but a germ, invisible, in droplets,
You must remember Donald Trump? His squeeze box hands
That moved as he suggested as a cure
A spoon full of Chlorex.. His fake news, midnight tweets,
his walls, his biggest, always, nevers?
And finally his end, messy, and contentious
the virus irrelevant.

It was the year of wizzing humus taught by Rupert
who stayed a while, picked elderflower, made champagne
and swam in the warm North Sea off Walberswick.
It was the year my friend sea swam each morning
found the lure, put down words, in the darkening dawn.
It was the year people planted seeds, tilled earth
for the first time. Strangers stayed at East Lodge
To recover from Long Covid.

It was the year of limitation, the realisation
that I wouldn’t now ride a horse, live
in Tuscany, learn again to play the piano,
pilgrimage around Kaliash. Would I to India again?
Not run 10 K as I once did. It was the year I wore glasses
to see text.

It was the year of loosing. Glasses, van keys, secateurs,
of days spent searching before finding
under the organic carrots in the fridge.
Loosing names of actors, books and authors.
Loosing friends, first Graham bicycled to his grave,
Ronnie from school, Paul from our coppice group,
James Holloway who found and made The Cut.
George Floyd, whose face, that could not breath
Under the knee, lit the fire for
black lives matter.

Remember how out of lockdown, we toured
the plaque land. First to LangAr and louise,
devoid of agency, sceptical, and loving all in one.
To Liverpool, a nervous b and b,
to Michael’s birth place and his school,
where he looked across the green
where only prefects were allowed to cross.
Do you remember how the sun shone that day,
sitting on a grassy knoll in Nibthwait
with our friends, eating Cropwell Bishop
and Pork Pie and heard of their struggling year.
And later, after Grassmere for gingerbread,
we took in two graves, celtic cross of Ruskins’
a blue bird and bear on Campbells’.
To Scotland, to deliver Staffordshire.
Down to York for lunch, and New York
for a memory of a book just read.

It was the year of woods, grateful for this outside space
when Hornbeam heard our our Socratic Dialogues,
the Limits of Friendship, When to disagree.
Lockdown Getty inspired, we recreated a Dutch master
Land of Cockaigne. Puffed up our middles,
lay on the earth – we were the land of plenty.
It was the year I walked from Forest Gate,
from Barry’s Oak to Wandstead flats, the patch work
of wood the way to Epping.

Do you remember Kali, how he’d down, to eye a stick, intent
and Bobji would fetch back, all fey, keen to please
That all remained the same, just a clouding of his eyes,
a stiffness of back leg joint, although alert as ever to
football on TV while Bobji curls up beside us,
always close.

Do you remember MJ whose perfume was wood smoke
who mended all that broke but could not heal her dog.
When Brexit raised it’s ugly head she filled in the endless forms
To stay on our island. Meanwhile Jo
kept us warm with wood, and watched
all who came and went, took care our home

Do you remember Grumpy Mule, of pigeons
roosting on the copper beech, of Chicken in the wood
that grew outside our front door
and eating Beef Stake fungi found at
Staverton with Elizabeth.
Finding burnt to a cinder cake in the Aga,
before making perfect goose broth overnight.
Every night we’d wiz, slice carrot, cheers a glass of wine,
and watch West Wing, until I mixed Jed Bartlet
with Ordinary Jo from Delaware.
Mornings when you read Overstory and Wilding to me
before we began our days.

Do you remember the year that Mars was bronze bright
in the South and dimmer beside Jupiter was Saturn,
and one night walking the dogs on the green,
I stopped a man and said, ‘Up there, that’s Mars’
And he in awe, stopped another passing by
and shared the news immediately.

December 2020

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