20/20

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Selected poems

 

20/20

 

1.

 

Not unlike a noirish film

or narrative by Kafka

the overcoats are at the door.

 

Urgers, thieves and murderers,

their only wish, to replicate.

They have no sexual desire 

 

and, to their hosts, seem innocent,

digestible almost,             

till suddenly they force the door —       

 

or wait a while to be ingested,

to have their overcoat removed,

showing off a splendid genome

 

shining underneath.

From here on in, it’s all submission,

the host and hostess smiling wanly

 

until the virions appear.

Equipped with brand-new gabardine

and just a single notion

 

they head off, knocking, down the street. 

Ah, Mr V, so nice to see you.

You’re looking good. Come in. Come in.

 

Do let me take your coat.

 

  1.  

 

First the symptoms: fever, chill,

sore throat, headache, shortened breath,

a vanishing of taste and smell

 

and so the queueing for a test

A swab goes snaking up the nose;

perhaps another down the throat,

 

looking for the news.

Two days later, maybe three,

a phone call re-confirming

 

Name in Full and Date of Birth,

offering instructions with a

subtle hint of force.

 

You’re thinking of your demographic,

its sad percentages.

Two weeks at home alone with checks?

 

Or quick admission to the ward?

And thence to ICU?

Induced coma, intubation?

 

Will you join the half of those

who gratefully swim back sore-throated?

Or will it be this time for you

 

the Yes/No of eternity

long before you thought.

Soon, we’re told, there’ll be a million

 

dead around the world,

most of whom, we have to think,

failed to spot the aerosols

 

and droplets on the air.

And so, to some degree, we all

wear a worry in our pocket

 

waiting for the call.

 

3.

Once again we’re forced to think

about the ones who’ve kept us going,

doctors, nurses, nurses’ aides,

 

swallowing their fear and knowing

masks, however good,

can never be sufficient, those

 

who check each other’s PPE,

all suited-up as if they planned

a landing on the moon.

 

We think about the first responders

who see on any passing day

more than anyone should have to

 

though not the aerosols or droplets

wafting in the air.

We see once more the pharmacists

 

surrounded by their spruced assistants

who know a well-coiffed matron or

a liner-up for methadone

 

may pose an equal risk.

We’re noticing the checkout clerks

defended by a home-sewn mask

 

or sometimes just a smile

and so are somehow seeing too

the semi-trailer pilots who

 

remain alert on cruise control

hauling through the highway nights,

still a little spooked

 

when stopping to re-fuel.

And somewhere there the teachers,

confronting yet again

 

waiting faces wanting more

and careless of their sneezes.

And now, without intent, we thank

 

the ministers and politicians

who, randomly across the aisle,

discover in themselves

 

depths we hadn’t guessed were there.

Do the workers deemed ‘essential’

think about the ‘inessential’ —

 

the ones who work (or used to) at

enhancing life and not so much

its simple prolongation?

 

Hardly anyone these days

survives without the thought

of what was once the case;

 

a concert hall, a small jazz club,

a mosh pit like a football field

alive with those who play upon it

 

showing off of their codes.

In their corner of commitment

do the tireless ones remember?

 

We must suspect they do.

 

4.

 

A pair of pigeons tells the weather,

the darker and the lighter greys,

a smear of green as well.

 

Today is windless over water,

a steady dimpling in the mirror

and likewise on your raised umbrella.

 

Sunday morning. Very quiet.

You’re walking in a quayside world

of verticals and horizontals,

 

of longitudes and latitudes,

unseen but no less real.

Unseen too the virus

 

waiting with its one instruction.

Three weeks now and no new case.

The coffee bars are takeaway

 

though inside is permitted,

warily and distanced.

You contemplate your demographic

 

and thus your pair of lungs,

their labyrinthine interstices,

and whether they might see you through.

 

A light rain’s saying what you are.

Relishing a takeout,

you walk back to the car. 

 

 

 

 

 

Geoff PageGeoff Page is based in Canberra and has published 22 collections of poetry, two novels and five verse novels. His recent books include Gods and Uncles and PLEVNA: A Verse Biography.

Main image: surgical masks hanging on a coat stand. (Getty Images) 

 

Topic tags: Geoff Page, poetry

 

 

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Existing comments

Cheers to the non-essential enhancers, Geoff, those much missed or slipped from regard. A fine poem reflecting these code-showing times.


Bill Wootton | 18 September 2021  

Egad Geoff ! chilling stuff! No 2 has inspired me to buy a Hazmat suit and a gasmask.


Francis Armstrong | 20 September 2021  

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