Many of us have cancelled gigs, festivals, theatre and music events this year. It’s left a huge gap that’s been hard to fill. I wrote this poem about it during lockdown. I’m sharing it now, alongside a picture from a local artist. Jamie’s picture (shared during #inktober20) really expresses the joy and atmosphere of live music that connected us all. This is also dedicated to all the artists who have been waiting in the wings. We will welcome you back with open arms and never take it for granted again.
People, masked and changed.
They are the beginners, nervous.
Edging along the new, hard lines.
By a virus that towered, out of sight.
But, I miss,
A bubble of laughter escaping a strangers’ lips,
A quick hand to their open mouth,
Eyes rolling and creased.
Colliding with a stranger at a gig.
Throats stretched up, off key.
Till the stage lights are dimmed.
Copyright image, credit and thanks to Jamie Douglas.
This week (16th-22nd November) is Book Week Scotland. I have been delighted to take part in a Poetry Safari along with other writers. Nine poems have been placed along a 3km trail in the Eskrigg Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Lockerbie.
The small, peaceful reserve is a mixed area of heath and woodland that is rich in wildlife. When I visited, it was a bright, late Autumn day with a blue sky, clear air and picturesque views.
The theme of this year’s Book Week is Hope. My poem is set in a dystopian future, but ends optimistically with mycelium roots sending out signals to rescue the growth of some fragile, young trees. Mycelium are regarded as the underground’s internet. The Earth is never silent and our lives are all intertwined with Nature.
The Safari was supported by a local poet who provided a very engaging tutorial and feedback.
If I were the moon, I would float mysteriously around our planet, draping my smooth gown, like a canopy over the world. I would be silvery white, pale or bright depending on where you were seeing me. Reflecting on rivers and ponds and lakes, shimmering and quiet. I would watch the fox calling for her cubs at night and hear the plaintive howl of the lonely wolf. I would calm troubled souls who have difficulty sleeping, bringing cooler air and a softer sky, dipped in shy starlight. I would keep everyone safe. Drifting and dreaming. I would pull the mighty waves of our great, roaring oceans. I would summon the restless winds from all corners. Then I would set free the dancing, snowy, seahorses at our shores to prance and frolic before they vanish at the water’s edge, leaving solace in their wake. I would whisper to my friend, the moon hare. He is an alchemist, as old as the land. Together, we would charm Nature to bring re-growth and new beginnings. Sea turtles would hatch on ancestral sands and I would lovingly guide them to crawl towards the sea. As the sun started to wake, I would invite the birds to start their sweet, morning song. I would rest and wait, almost out of sight. A muted, subtle face, only just visible in certain light. Separated from the world until the birth of the next night. I would come and go, as sure as the constant tide of our seas.
Up, up Emeris swam, her tail flexing strongly behind her. Until she crashed through to The Top with a sudden gasp. She twisted and turned, her yellow hair spraying water in every direction. She couldn’t see another living soul. She shielded her eyes from the brightness with one arm as she caught her breath.
The Cloud watched Emeris. She looked like a spinning top, set adrift in the water.
“Is the She-Fish lost?” The Cloud asked the languid Yellow-Star who blinked in surprise and dipped behind The Cloud to get a better look. Emeris suddenly got scale-bumps and she clutched her arms around her. The Cloud floated down to her and spoke. “She-Fish, can I help you find your way?”
Emeris rubbed her eyes and shook her head, trying not to gape. Was she dreaming? “The Top is so, so .. big!” She stuttered, feeling a little overwhelmed and not having a clue what she should do next. “Where should I start?” She flipped around again. “Where is everybody?”
The Cloud chuckled. “The Heavy Planet is vast and wide, She-Fish, but we all share the heat of the same Yellow-Star.” She drifted along a little, so that the warmth of the rays could shine on Emeris, who felt her arms start to relax. The sea bed was a murky place compared to this, mired in dark shadows and cold weeds. She looked around, noticing that the honeycomb rocks and jade trees were bathed in golden light. Her eyes settled on the shore line, shimmering in the distance.
The Cloud hovered, gliding sideways to keep Emeris warm. “The Silver-Star commands the water at The Edge. When she pulls the waves back, The Island appears”. Emeris wondered how it would feel to lay there, her tail glittering in the sunlight. The Cloud bobbed down, noticing that the She-Fish was listening attentively. “It happens a few times every day. You just have to learn to time it. When the water faces the Silver-Star, she is strongest and the pull is fast. Take care then, She-Fish”.
“Thank you”, Emeris had found her voice and a tentative smile.
The Cloud nodded. “Wait for the Silver-Star to pull back, for only then will the creatures of the Island reveal themselves”. Emeris let out a sigh of wonder, her eyes rounded in excitement. The Cloud started to float up, then slipped back. “And if you come back when the Silver-Star shines most brightly of all, when the Canopy is black and cool, you will see the Moon Hare. He is the Guardian of the Night Stars and he joins the Island to the sea. “
A sudden, unexpected gust of wind swept The Cloud sidelong, but she danced back, just within earshot of Emeris. “Alas, the Moon Hare is wounded. Perhaps you can help him?” Then another rush of wind carried her some distance, further away from the other clouds, hanging drowsily in the sky.
Emeris wondered how far The Cloud would sail in one day. How many other Islands had she seen, beyond The Top? She looked up at the sky, searching for the sleeping Silver-Star. Who was the Moon Hare and how had he been hurt?
So many questions whirled around her head. Where to start? Suddenly determined to discover some answers, she dived back down with an almighty splash. She had to find the little seahorse, Hope. There was no time to lose.
Emeris was sinking through the cold, murky water. She landed with a jarring thump onto the rocky sea bed, her hopes smashed. She slumped over, her heavy tail tangled in the dense, black weeds, leaking lonely tears.
‘How do I live without my legs?’ she whispered to her pearly pink conch shell. ‘For I am broken and changed’.
She cried all day , feeling desolate and empty. Terrified by her silver-scabbed tail, dull as a foxed mirror. She was as weak as a puppet.
‘Please’, she begged to the sea gods. ‘Let me , please, go back to what I once was. Or let him live, instead of me’.
There was a dreadful, sickening silence. She felt her heart beat fast and hard in her throat. Her tail flopped lifelessly beneath her, dragged here and there by the dark waves. For days, then weeks, then months, she pined. Without her legs, she couldn’t run or skip or dance. Without him, she would feel alone, forever. All seemed pointless and the chilly waves swayed overhead, black as endless night. Her blonde hair floated limply over her face.
One morning, as she lay silently shivering against the sand, a tubby fish suddenly swam right up to her. He noticed her chattering teeth. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ he asked her, kindly. ‘You look cold and sad’.
‘My lover is dead’, she answered him, with a shuddering sigh. ‘Yet I live. And I’m stuck down here, all alone’. She half-gazed at him, suspiciously, wriggling her grey scales.
The tubby fish blinked rapidly and circled around her head, coming to a stop in front of her again, his bright orange tail bobbing. ‘We all feel guilt sometimes, Emeris’, he told her, kindly.
Emeris took a long, deep breathe, shocked that he knew her name. ‘What?…..’
‘We all feel guilt, but now, it’s time to move on. That which is changed is lost’. He tilted his head looking at her considerately, then nodding towards her tail. ‘But…..’, he started to dart in and out of the weed, making her feel a little dizzy. She had to sit up quickly, just to keep up with him, pulling her tail with her. ‘……..sometimes’, he continued, ‘change can be good, if you’re brave enough to trust it’.
Emeris looked forlorn. ‘I’m not brave’, she told him, sadly.
The little fish swam sideways, a little impatiently, then came back. ‘Every one that has loved is brave, Emeris’, he said solemnly. ‘For we all face loss and change when we give our hearts to another’. Her mouth fell open and the fin of her tail tingled. He looked at her gently. ‘You’re never alone, if you let others help you’. He nodded once more, before swimming away, deep into the gloomy water.
The next day, Emeris looked at her tail, curled loosely by her side. ‘Changing is painful’, she thought. ‘But I wonder what it’s like at the top of the sea’.
She looked up and thought that she could see the strange little fish rushing upwards, leaving a weak path of light in his wake. She wiped her eyes and tried to softly flap her tail. This time, the scales tightened swiftly and she felt a jerk upwards. She counted to ten, inhaled deeply, then swam up, up, her tail flexing strongly beneath her as the shadows of the cloudy sea bed fell away. Suddenly, she felt the day’s sunlight filtering through the green waves. Her scales shone brilliantly as she broke free to the surface, allowing the warm, gentle waves to lap around her shoulders.
‘That wasn’t so bad’, she thought, flicking back her glistening hair. ‘Maybe I will come again tomorrow’.
Atargatis is believed to be the first mermaid tale of Assyria. She fell in love with a mere mortal, a shepherd. She killed him accidentally, not recognising the strength of her powers. In grief and mourning, she jumped into a river to turn into a fish. But she remained half fish, half goddess because her beauty could not be diminished.
‘I surrender my tears, my body to the sea. The rise and collapse of the moon, the drag and twist of the waves. My heart is rent. The spumes rush to claim me, silver white and unstoppable. My grief is perpetual emerald blue. Streaming and swirling. Releasing me, scaled in remorse and sorrow, silver and green. And the sands beneath me are changed and he is lost forever’.
Atargatis, great goddess of northern Syria. Great Mother of the Water. Goddess of the seas. With long, flowing hair like the waves. First of the mermaids.
Today, I took my first trip out in a car for three months. Three long months. Or 88 days to be precise. Not really that long in an average adult’s lifetime. I was pregnant for three times this period! Twice! The days now seem to blur seamlessly one into another. There’s nothing in the diary to count down to and no timetable, other than on work days.
The countryside verges looked overgrown to me and a little neglected. Maybe it’s always looked like that in the Summer months? For weeks, I’ve pounded the pavement or the cycle paths for my daily exercise. These routes are now well trodden and I couldn’t wait to look at a wider, more open space.
We parked up at a quiet spot with a lovely view. There was a long bench nearby to sit on, with room enough for the three of us. I turned to my son and said,
“It’s okay. We’re one household, so we can sit there”.
He corrected me.
“We’re not allowed to sit on benches yet. Only for a short rest”.
I agreed, then I thought to myself how our discussion, those words didn’t even seem strange anymore.
But, if I went back in time, about a year, I would find myself in roughly the same place. How weird it would seem then!
I miss dipping my toes into the lapping tide, a sunny breeze lifting my hair. For some reason, I find the sea calming and inspiring. When I was a little girl, I used to submerge myself at the swimming pool. I enjoyed the mute world under the water. I would plug my ears and listen to the loud boom of another person’s voice . Waves of sound moved through the water like a siren’s song.
It felt like a sanctuary then and it still does. I’m not alone. So many of us are drawn to the sea. But why? It’s a place of contradictions. Calm and wild, devastating and restorative. Fearful and soothing.
We spend the first nine months of our lives in a watery womb. At birth, our bodies are about 78% water. We need water to survive. Populations across the world have gravitated towards it for thousands of years. It’s universal and boundless, covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface. Sustaining us, giving us life. Inspiring us to holiday close to it, to connect to it through art, sport and food.
However, 95% of earths’ waters are yet to be explored. They’re still a mystery. Many of our favourite legends are borne from the sea. Thieves, mermaids and krakens. Maybe it’s the unfathomable depths of the sea that draw us.
Or maybe it is the calm, endless waves reconnecting us to our life support. Helping us to feel recharged and revived.
The Spring or Vernal equinox marks the first day of Spring in the astronomical calendar. It’s a time when there are equal periods of light and darkness. This year, it fell on Thursday March 19th, earlier than it has done in over a century. Just four days before the official lockdown started in the UK.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought many days of darkness.
And yet, the sun rises earlier and Nature is in a state of renewal. Cherry petals have blossomed, like powder pink confetti. Birds and butterflies are winging back to the Northern hemisphere. Trees are bursting to life, plants are budding. Daffodils proudly herald in a new period of growth.
In Ancient Italy, traditionally women would plant seeds in the garden of Adonis on the Spring Equinox. Today, the bright yellow Spring Adonis herb flowers in March.
Despite Covid-19, the world is rebuilding as the Earth continues its constant and unending orbit of the sun.
Despite lockdown and social distancing, the world will find new ways to come together to mark Easter.
We can celebrate light today. We can hope for a period of recovery and maybe change for the better after we come through the peak of the crisis. And we can salute all the good in the world and every act of courage, compassion and kindness that we have all seen, given or received.
Kindness is everlasting and healing and will endure long after lockdown.