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Covid 19 (2)

We are now into the fourth week of the Coronavirus “shut down”, “lock in”.  Reading back over my previous blog on the subject I can now see what an inadequate and superficial account it was, failing to express the real heartbreak and anxiety of what countless people are really going through.  I seem to have turned the experience into a preacher’s son’s diatribe against materialism,- which is perhaps a side issue, a red herring?  For me to blame consumerism is perhaps typical of our human reactions to bad things happening to us – that we first of all cast around for scapegoats, someone or something to BLAME.  The well-known story, which I have been re-reading, of “Typhoid Mary”, Mary Mallon, in the New York epidemic of 1906 is typical – how politicians, newspaper moguls, and Public Health officials combined to cast a poor young Irish immigrant cook in the role of “Super-spreader in chief”: a New Yorker cartoon of the time shows Mary gleefully supping the stew which she has made out of ground-up human skulls.  In truth we know now that there must have been many, many other asymptomatic typhoid spreaders besides Mary – probably hundreds of them? – and that in any case her cooking probably got rid of most of the germs which she may have been transferring from her fingers.  It was probably her famous (uncooked) peach ice cream, whipped-up cream and raw chunks of peach – a favourite dessert among the bankers’ families of Oyster Bay and Long Island – which did the real damage.  Being tracked down and then unfairly lampooned ensured Mary Mallon’s fate, which was to be exiled in permanent quarantine, untried by any jury, to North Brother Island with only a small dog for company.  Poor teenager Mary with her beautiful black hair, rosy cheeks, hot tempered brogue and flashing Irish eyes – a natural femme fatale, witch hunt target, for the busybodies of the time…  Yes, going back to Covid 19, I think I was mostly wrong in my previous blog to ascribe the blame for our rampant consumerism to our computers (Amazon, Google et al) who are after all merely the servants of our impulses.  Digital communication is in fact turning out to be one of the great forces for good in the current epidemic with all its concomitant isolations.  Applications such as Skype and Zoom are proving to be huge assets in bring people together – families, friends, businesses and groups of all kinds. Two of my writing groups, for instance, are meeting for “virtual” work-shops, one group of friends here in Bridgnorth are enjoying virtual wine-tasting sessions (with real wines admittedly), and my son John’s young family in Vienna are enjoying instant communication with their other, more fiercely locked-in, grandparents in Spain. And through our many fire-sticked news media we are getting to hear so many of the heart breaking accounts of personal deprivation, death and suffering which are the “Real Stories” of this epidemic. And I am continuing to try to tap “poems”  – whether or not they are real poems only time will tell  – into my beloved laptop-dancing microchipped personal computer. Here is my latest:

Sand Martins

Feeling low locked in

against the spread of Coronavirus

the incessant rain of bad news

looking up I see

how suddenly the sky is filled  

with little birds flying too fast for the eye to follow

white vests & chokers twinkling like stars

skittering around corners  

tying knots high in the clouds

using the whole sky for their skating rink

for five minutes or so the air brisk

with their twittering clicking gossip  

finding us full of insect promise

as they pause in their flight up the Severn

as if time has undergone some acceleration

toward Easter its resurrection

F1 racers taking over from the traffic

of our stay-at-home garden hoppers

think of the miles these passerines have crossed

through the burning hoop of the Equator

over the brush fires of the Sahel

Sahara with its heaps of hopelessness   

how the Greeks even Plato believed that martins

overwintered in mud bogged down like catfish

not realising how their lives

are in fact more wonderful than myths about them

how our planet is full of the magic

of migration like a ball of wool being wound

by invisible electromagnetic hands

higher deeper currents of knowledge

than we can know or be certain of

  for five minutes while those small birds passed

felt free and glad to be alive  

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