/ Poetry

Virus Villanelles

I. Cells

Each in the cell of stillness, each alone,
We’re linked by something far beyond our ken.
Let us touch gently now, nor turn our hearts to stone.

We cannot tell what seedlings we have sown.
It moves so fast: what matter one or ten,
Each in the cell of stillness, each alone?

This is no battleground, no world-war zone.
We hunker down with crosswords or with Zen.
Let us touch gently now, nor turn our hearts to stone.

It’s not too late. It’s not too late, dear one.
We peer beyond our little byway den,
Each in the cell of stillness, each alone,

And sing together, though we lack one tone,  
Like sparrow, starling, blackbird, thrush or wren.
Let us touch gently now, nor turn our hearts to stone.

This singing through the night and the unknown
Will last until the never-never when.
Each in the cell of stillness, each alone,
Let us touch gently now, nor turn our hearts to stone.


II. Waiting

The virus spreads. The country fears its fate,
Grieving for damage that’s already done.
Nothing to do, except to sit and wait.

The spring is over now. It came too late
For celebrations and a sense of fun.
The virus spreads. The country fears its fate.

The foxgloves tower by the garden gate
And poppies shed their petals one by one.
Nothing to do, except to sit and wait.

The summer pauses near its midway date
And pansies shrivel in the midday sun.
The virus spreads. The country fears its fate.

Divided — child from parent, mate from mate,
No place to go, nowhere to hide or run:
Nothing to do, except to sit and wait —

When will infection slow its rapid rate?
When will the vicious death-toll cease to stun?
The virus spreads. The country fears its fate.
Nothing to do, except to sit and wait.


III. Lockdown Time

Time stretches out, the minutes creep.
We watch the big hand move around the clock.
We’re in this lonely mess five fathoms deep.

How can we weed the garden, cook, or sleep?
Tick, goes the hand, tick-tock tick-tock.
Time stretches out, the minutes creep.

Our letters lie unopened in a heap.
All writing meets a sudden stop or block.
We’re in this lonely mess five fathoms deep.

Oh, to break free at last, to run and leap
Downhill towards the sunlit, sea-drenched rock.
Time stretches out, the minutes creep.

Too bright the light in this sad stifling keep,
Too shut the door, too tight the fastened lock.
We’re in this lonely mess, five fathoms deep.

Wasted the crop we are too late to reap,
Savage the death-toll in its daily shock.
Time stretches out, the minutes creep.
We’re in this lonely mess, five fathoms deep.


IV. Imploring hands

Imploring hands held out to show their trust,
Callous and crass, the politicians speed.
They are betraying us because they must.

All plans and preparations are as dust.
The powers that be are fearsome in their need,
Imploring hands held out to show their trust.

Employers, on the verge of going bust,
Return too soon, and taking little heed.
They are relaxing rules because they must.

The distance closes. No one can be fussed
To follow laws. Old stifled longings breed,
Imploring hands held out to show their trust.

Sick of the pretexts they’ve already sussed,
The young pursue no kind of code or creed.
They are ignoring rules because they must.

And still the germs are borne on every gust.
The ghosts will come. Their shadows intercede,
With begging hands held out to show their trust.
They are beseeching us because they must.


V. Instructions

Bury your head inside a book and read,
No longer caring about where or how
The vicious little microbes spread and breed.

Turn off the television. Take no heed
Of every petty squabble, every row.
Bury your head inside a book and read.

Ignore the polls. Don’t watch who’s in the lead,
Who’s in, who’s out, who takes a parting bow.
The vicious little microbes spread and breed.

Follow your instincts, what you crave and need
To lift you from this all-consuming slough.
Bury your head inside a book and read.

Switch off your mind. Make sure you sleep and feed,
As would an unreflecting sheep or cow.
The vicious little microbes spread and breed.

Forget your race, religion, colour, creed.
Focus on living in the here and now.
Bury your head inside a book and read.
The vicious little microbes spread, and breed.

VI. An air that kills

An air that kills is breathing here —
Invisible, without a sound,
Filling our timid hearts with fear.

The streams that once ran fast and clear
Have dried and vanished underground.
An air that kills is breathing here.

The trees are yellowing and sere.
The famished hills are sick and browned,
Filling our timid hearts with fear.

The lanes, deserted still, lack cheer.
No sign of water can be found.
An air that kills is breathing here.

The killing pestilence of air
That knows no limit yet nor bound,
Filling our timid hearts with fear,

Holds nothing precious, nothing dear
But spreads its pestilence all round.
An air that kills is breathing here,
Filling our timid hearts with fear.


VII. In hiding

Unstoppable as wind or Cornish rain
The virus is in hiding from us now.
We watch and wait for it to strike again—

To fall on every field, in every lane,
To cut across the country like a plough,
Unstoppable as wind or Cornish rain.

The second wave will bring redoubled pain,
From which we hide like any sheep or cow
Who watches out for rain to strike again.

It spreads across the country like a stain —
But secretly, we don’t know when or how,
Unstoppable as wind, or Cornish rain.

The death-toll falls, but still the meaning’s plain:
Only a vaccine will prevent the flow.
We watch and wait for it to strike again,

Willing that next time it will quickly wane.
We’re masked, we’re ready, we are lying low:
Unstoppable as wind or Cornish rain
We watch and wait for it to strike again.


Virus Villanelles
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