April 2020

The low-slung sun
spreads first-light shadows
on a deserted road
as it slips between
dark doors
of locked-down stillness
towards this fragile
frontier-line in human closeness

We doff and don and change the shift
in silence: our mouths surrendered.
Bad news follows us and lives
on every surface.
Anxious eyes mist
donated visors.

Locked in timeless,
harsh fluorescence
patients semi-naked, lying prone,
never so vulnerable or alone
since fathers dead and buried
on The Somme.
The lock of family broken;
no visitors to offer
kaleidoscopic glimpses
to the patterns of your lives

just the whoosh and push of air
out        and        in,
of CO2 and Oxygen.

Your abandoned coat is folded on the chair,
I sink
beside you,
to catch your hand which flails
in empty air; comfort,
whilst loved ones can’t be there.

Through double gloves your hands still strong
but your eyes show white fear.

Outside, a magnolia in bloom;
a thousand pink and healthy lungs
held up to this impassive sun
in a rare, blue heaven
lending its fragments
to blue gowns and blankets
blue against white sheets
and your lips
taking air in desperate rasps.

I imagine all those thought-free breaths
you took before

you were denied your senescence.
You deserve a quiet death,
to rest with gentle poppies,
as air acquiesces to fire and water

in wet and fevered lungs
and earth waits patiently
for you to become a number
into a flattened

We don and doff
and change the shift
in setting sun
as shocked shadows
of still-winter trees
stand to attention
against a rose madder sky.
I envy the evening flights of busy rooks
building their future

whilst our hope no longer flies
beyond a day or a minute.
Netflix nights and breaking news
in houses with suspended lives;
anxiety the only guest
whilst we wait
upon the alchemists.

I put spring flowers
in a vase
and stretch bare toes
towards the fire’s embers
and think
of you.

Click here to read Sarah Browning on the origin of the poem.


Image: “Magnolia” by Krondol, licensed under CC 2.0.

Sarah Browning:
This poem was written in response to working as a nurse during a period of intense change in a Coronary Care Unit during the current pandemic. It equally reflects a shift in the perception of the human condition as we face a stark reminder of our fallibility. The striking, sometimes harsh, Celtic landscape keeps the power of nature in focus for me and I am drawn to it much as I was drawn back to nursing after years pursuing other careers. In both, there is a sense that everything matters; that small things hold great importance. The stunning weather that we are experiencing in Wales this Spring creates a strange disparity as the natural world thrives whilst the human population is paralysed by an invisible enemy. The significance is greater because awareness of climate emergency had already been rippling out towards even the most resistant corners of society. Whilst acknowledging social disparity, extreme ill health remains a great leveler of human experience and never more so than during this indiscriminate pandemic. The greatest sadness for me has been the loneliness of patients during the last days of their lives and the unseen grief of those left behind to only wonder about the last moments for their loved ones. The language of war has been used frequently during this pandemic. It seems most appropriate when lives end in isolation and anonymity, away from all that they have known and with no relatives to provide context; reminiscent of those lost in the great wars still in the memories of many of this new generation of casualties. I hope that when our lives assume some normality we gain a new respect for the natural world and hold close the importance of that connection to the earth and to each other that is so vital.

Sarah Anne Williams
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