A MASTERLESS MAN
One of the consequences of plague in the era of the internet is that we can all become amateur virologists. Very, very amateur in my case, but that hasn’t stopped me from finding out some fascinating facts about viruses. ‘Fascinating’ did I say? My daughter put me right on that one.
‘Did you know’, I said to my daughter,
‘It’s incredible, but we each,
Are host to many more viruses,
Than there are grains of sand on Hartlepool beach’
‘Did you know’, responded my daughter,
As she combed her virusy hair,
‘Did you know’, and I knew this was coming,
‘Did you know that I really don’t care!’
May was gloriously warm and sunny. It was the kind of weather that hijacks the mind of many a northern European and steers them straight to the local park or beach in order to socialise in numbers. So, when the first phase of lock-down easing was announced this appeared to be misinterpreted by many as a kind of ‘all clear’ siren. An inch was given and a mile and more was taken. Particularly by kids just itching to meet up with their friends.
I can understand this totally and am not judging, just observing with this poem:
Social Distancing Teenage Style
‘Party, Party in the Park!’
The message has gone viral.
Clusters, throngs and mobs, and crowds,
The numbers quickly spiral.
There’s weed and picnics, sun and grog,
A dance, a fight and then a snog.
It’s ironic, isn’t it?
The park was once the town’s plague pit.
We know what coronavirus is to us. But what are we to Coronavirus? A universe, a world, an ecosystem, a teeming city? And though the consequence to us as individuals of being infected by coronavirus can be very destructive, that is not the aim of the coronavirus. It is simply getting on with the business of survival, replication, and growth, though of course, the process of achieving this carries serious ramifications for itself. This poem is a nod to our sometimes similar trajectories.
Coronavirus, we can’t see,
Quite simply put, they’re far too wee.
They’re not like whales or antelope,
And so we need a microscope.
Within our lungs, these feckers thrive,
If they’re the wasps, then we’re their hive,
Though this hurts us, there’s no abatement,
As follows from their mission statement;
‘Replicate at any cost’,
But, Oops! their ecosystems lost,
Their fixed agenda finally means,
The shattering of their tiny dreams;
They reap the whirlwind that they sow,
When we’re destroyed then they can’t grow.
They’re just like us in that respect;
Chessmen on a board they’ve wrecked.
There has been a lot of talk about getting ‘back to normal’. But what was normal? It seems to me it was never a static thing but rather an evolving process. And a process that was moving with increasing speed. Particularly after the last, great derailing over a decade ago. Economies, societies, and cultures are enormously complex and behaviours are, of course, dynamic and emergent. But in spite of that, there exist conscious and deliberate measures and impetus that nudge the world in certain directions.
How we nudge or are nudged over the coming weeks, months, years is up for grabs and new normals will be affected by our vision or the vision of others as to how we would like that new normal to look.
We may be wise to think back a mere decade and keep in mind that blind greed ignited a financial crisis in 2008 and in response Governments turned to quantitative easing to save the banks. This put cheap money on the table that actually only the rich could take advantage of. In the strata below the rich, wages stagnated, and austerity choked off the flow of money into public services. Disillusionment grew and populists fed off it and into it with nationalist agendas and narratives.
The UK, like other countries, was a packed stagecoach driven by a blind highwayman turned coachman, wildly driving his horses along a cliff edge road in a nighttime thunderstorm. Inside the coach itself the passengers argued furiously with each other over whether the driver was mad, bad or brilliant. And until March 2020 that was what we referred to as and understood to be ‘normal’.
Then Covid galloped into the scene on a pale horse and darted the coachman and horses, sedating them. The coach rolled to a halt on a beach in the gentle, early morning sun. Some of the passengers stumbled out of the coach, confused, blinking in the sunlight. They took off their heavy boots, hats and cloaks and walked along the beach feeling the sand beneath their toes, the sun on their faces, the breeze in their hair. They sank to their knees and drank in fresh sea air while the curlews and herring gulls sang with the waves.
For many people, the world stopping has felt less like paralysis and more like a liberation. But what next? Well, some of the passengers stayed in the coach, fidgety and Ill at ease. They are very keen for the driver to wake and for the coach and the thunder to start rolling again. They are waving smelling salts beneath the driver’s nose, slapping his cheeks and shaking him into consciousness. Slowly he is coming-to. Soon he will be rising to his feet. He’ll kick his horses in the ribs, yell at them to get up, and then he’ll clamber back onto his seat. He’ll pick up his coachman’s horn, put it to his lips and blow. The call of the curlews and herring gulls will be drowned out and the passengers will climb back aboard the coach as a rumble of distant thunder rolls across the darkening sky.
Where and how did C19 emerge? Set aside the conspiracy theorist nonsense and there is a general consensus in the scientific community that C19 is zoonotic. In other words, it jumped from one species to another. Malaria, Bubonic plague, Spanish flu, HIV are all previous examples of how this happens. The indications are that the wild-life markets in Wuhan were a very probable location for C19 to have transferred to humans and bats have been implicated. Bats are certainly an excellent R&D species for viruses. A bat’s immune system is quickly adaptable and means that viruses have to be really on their game if they want to mutate to thrive.
In this poem, I take a bat’s point of view on things and point out that bat’s, like viruses like humans, have more than just a few things in common.
The Song of The Bat
Upside-down upside down,
Me and Dave in a cave upside down.
It’s not just Dave, there’s Jan and Sue,
Ahmet, Pedro, Koji too,
Not to mention Raol and Chris, Pierre, Maria, Benji, Liz.
Upside-down, upside down,
In a cave, lots of us, upside down.
In a cage, in a cage upside down,
In the street we’re hanging meat, upside down.
We’re Trojan Bats, Batdora’s Box,
When our cage opens, your cage locks,
Cos when you chopped our heads and wings,
You crowned 10 zillion Covid Kings,
You’re in a cage, in a world, upside down.
Every year people are swept into the sea from the pier or promenade. Usually, they’d been watching the waves slapping and crashing against the structure, but never really thought there would be a wave big enough to suddenly rise up and engulf them too. In the UK we watched as Asia then Italy became engulfed by the coronavirus.
But we were on an island and therefore safe. Until …
The Virus Wears The Crown
We spit, we kiss, we sneeze, we cry,
We splutter, cough, the droplets fly.
And through the mouth, the nose the eye,
The plague sneaks in.
‘It won’t get me’, the fat man boasts,
But in a month the fat man’ s toast,
And so, we ask the fat man’s ghost,
‘Sir’, we say, ‘you got it wrong,
The virus stalked you all along,
So have you pondered much upon,
Just how the plague got into you?’
‘I think’, moans out the fat man’s spook,
‘It may have been a hand I shook,
A poor decision that I took,
To play things down.
I thought myself a mighty king,
Who’d brush off plague or anything,
But then the truth began to ring:
The virus wears the crown!’
Many underestimated the risks of contracting C19 until it was too late.
This poem is about that.
A month ago, in the fresh meat aisle, I didn’t see you.
A month ago, in the shelf stacker’s smile, I didn’t see you.
A month ago, by the checkout guy, I didn’t see you.
A month ago, when I touched my eye, I didn’t see you.
I didn’t see you, I didn’t see you, I didn’t see you, I didn’t see you,
Until tonight, in the soft white light of the Covid Ward,
Fear has been a big part of C19. We gave each other a wide berth, walking off the pavement and into the road rather than passing near another human. For some people, the fear, perhaps justifiably, seemed to be more intense and though you gave them a wide berth their behaviour and demeanor seemed to be on another level of anxiety and suspicion which I have likened in the next poem to that of an urban fox.
‘Always keep a soft side to you’,
Said Ma Fox to her son,
‘A hedge, a wood, a riverbank,
A place where you can run.
Don’t wander onto a busy street
In the two-leg giant domain,
Keep your wits about you,
Use the sly and cunning of your brain’.
But one day after he’d been napping,
And his wits were half asleep,
With his compass gone he wandered on
To a busy city street.
There were two-legs all around him,
No soft place for him to run,
Trapped within a steep-walled canyon
With no kind and guiding sun.
So, slinking through the angle,
Where the concrete meets the brick,
He crept along a path of shadow,
One yard slowly, one yard quick.
His heart was pulsing panic,
His mind was battling fear,
But in Foxdom there’s a simple rule;
‘Don’t let the two-legs near’.
So he wove his way from point-to-point,
Dodging women, children, men.
Back to where Ma Fox was locked
Down in the safety of the den.
Pictures: Dean Pasch (Germany)
Music: M G Boulter (England)
Essay & Poems: Stephen Penman (Scotland)
Matt’s lyrics for his song:
I will be free from magistrate and ministry
I will sleep in the fields or against a standing stone.
I’ll avoid market towns and open roads
I’ll navigate the marsh as if it were my own.
Sing the Masterless man,
With sylvan liberty and his eyes like serpentine
No scarecrow sin for me
I will be the horizon and everything within
I’ll have no method or means
No purse or property
Sing the masterless man,
For he rolls back the tide with his eyes of obsidian.