Face Masks

Mask XIV, © John Stezaker - Tate
Mask XIV, © John Stezaker. Low resolution image file licensed by Tate Images under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unreported) License.


The question these mornings of birdsong

to wear a mask or not

working from home:

intimacy inside out

like a glove

after this- will we all go back

without pretending

there’s no life back home

the commute as space travel

the atmosphere of the real left behind

no crying children, no flushing toilets,

no hammering next door

no washing up, no clothes drying

will we keep using virtual backgrounds

last year’s hols behind the blue screen

of yet another online meeting,

or maybe that poor chap’s dancing kids and

hurrying stressed-out wife

(the office worker has no clothes)

zoom in, skype me, hang out

make believe, do something else

mute the mic, camera off

what masks we are used to wearing

when the disease is something else



The Burial of the Dead

When churches fall completely out of use

What we shall turn them into

-Philip Larkin, “Church Going”, 1954



I woke up this morning thinking

T.S. Eliot had no clue

but (truth be told)

he must have known a thing or two.


Larkin, he must have done so too.


As we turned the corner

we were confronted

by more rows of coffins”


Everyone dies alone

new rules regarding the handling of the dead


April Fool, like every year

The Waste Land comes to mind

(I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.)

had there been a month

as cruel as this,  just about to start?


“For those who die at home,

the bureaucratic process is lengthier

as deaths need to be certified by two doctors.”


Cities like unused film sets

videographed by drones

What is that sound high in the air

Murmur of maternal lamentation

each in his prison

Thinking of the key


I read everything there is

I keep count of every dead,

every body who’s recovered,

every voice who’s lived to tell the tale.


I step inside, quoth the poet-

letting the door thud shut.



The Plague

We should have known it well

it thrives. indeed, on being human

our touching each other; hands on face

speak out loud, droplets & breath

hold on to the handrail

move down the carriage,

use all available space

it’s proximity & closeness

shaking hands, kissing once or twice,

(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)

the embrace, the popping in,

the cup of tea, the walk together,

y’alright mate,

saying cheers, give me five,

would you like a top-up,

anytime, here for you.

And they thought we could raise fences



To a dead fox

dead fox

It was the morning after

the night we were forced to say good-bye

you and your kind, too, are neighbours

often walking the road home

on weekday evenings after work.

Those nights you and yours, unfazed,

silent and determined, blending with brick and park

remind us of the great woods this all once was.

It was the morning after

the clock striking eleven

-for fuck’s sake, not even twelve-

it was that morning after then

we saw you in the distance, still,

golden, up close nearly smiling,

stiff, furry, were you at all alive?

Where were you going, what fence

did you trespass,

were you hunted, did you flee,

were you home or not yet there?

Did you just drop dead,

were you hit, then your body moved,

were you cold, ill and hungry,

or merely tired, not sick but old,

was your time up or were you poisoned,

did you simply fall asleep,

halfway here, halfway there,

pavement and grass, grey and green,

savvy animal, wise and wild,

yet trapped and doomed to hiding,

pretending never to be scared,

instead daring, uncaring and free?

How did you meet this end,

the morning after,

was it quick, painless,

just routine,

or laborious, agonising,


gasping loudly after air,

(the park runners this a.m.

take reign of what used to be,

my friend, your kingdom)

every noise tremendous,

your suffering unheard?

You lie there, waiting.

Someone will have to find you a place.


Le temps déborde

Chaque jour plus matinale

Chaque saison plus nue

Plus fraîche

-Paul Éluard, La vie, 1926


[and with apologies to Mr Cave]



“I get lucky/I get lucky”

sings the voice:

this morning

always to-day

(was it yesterday?)

as the day dawns slowly

yet impossibly quick- unstoppable.

We get lucky.

Each day more

like a morning


like that morning

in the 10th arrondissement

with Let Love In looping

(could not have been

a tape, could it?)

we wrote “Liberty”

here and there

on the walls

the bridges

every stone

again and again

from city to city

we get lucky

we get lucky



because we try and try again

the world becomes more

like morning

every day.

He spoke to us

of eternity



A Backward Glance

I become a dumb man.”

– Walt Whitman, 1856


How little did I know

about Lazarus’ true feelings

waking up a decade later

dead tired & unable to digest

the universe before him.

A backward glance

does not reveal the past

but the load on neck &

shoulders & the eyes,

the eyes blinded by the light.

¡Levántate, Lázaro! the accent

lacks the strength required

to lift the dead weight towards life.

The singer knew it. The earth

remains jagged and broken–

only to him.




There is nothing like peer review

to infuse in you the fear for writing.

One has to take the plunge one morning

and write for no other reason but the dew.

Whatever this is it is not autobiographical:

things do not have to be avant la lettre;

things can mean something else

not referring to the speaker, nor to

you, dear reader, of all people.

She did not marry him-

she was someone else,

and he was simply her invention.

That is the thing with poetry,

the focus, as you know, is on words

and lines and all those blank spaces;

god only knows what that void means,

like code, it makes you pay attention:

every character counts for different reasons,

in the context of its space and what is near.


Pessoa’s last names were his penance.


Ni siquiera la muerte

“Ni siquiera la muerte permanece”

-José Emilio Pacheco, citado por Mario Benedetti


Ni siquiera la muerte

se deshace de este polvo.

Cae sobre cada superficie

de esta casa como la lluvia

cae cada noche de estos días

en que vuelvo a este lugar

en que vivió y murió mi padre.

A lo único que de niños aprendimos

a temerle fue a que se cayera el techo,

sí, sobre nuestras cabezas.

Llegó el diluvio y se llevó los libros,

el piso y uno que otro mueble.

Por todos lados quedan cicatrices.

Se funden los focos y la oscuridad queda

y el agua gotea y los perros ladran.

Lo que queda del hombre, atrapado

entre las tapas de sus libros.

Quisiera volver a la palabra

pero lo único que queda son silencios.




Rio de Janeiro, April 8, 1832

Credit: Wellcome Library, London Cameo made by J. Wedgwood of a slave in chains: 'Am I Not a Man and Brother' From: The poetical works of Erasmus Darwin By: Erasmus Darwin Published: J. JohnsonLondon  1806
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Cameo made by J. Wedgwood of a slave in chains: ‘Am I Not a Man and Brother’
From: The poetical works of Erasmus Darwin
By: Erasmus Darwin
Published: J. Johnson, London 1806.


“The distant and sullen roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night”

-Charles Darwin, Rio de Janeiro, April 8, 1832

What would have taken to break the silence?

One old woman,

who, sooner than again be led into slavery,

dashed herself to pieces from the summit

of the mountain.

“A Roman matron” she was not,

so for the explorer hers could not not be “love of freedom”.

She was, of course, “a poor negress”,

so hers was instead “mere brutal obstinacy”.

I quote, verbatim, as he wrote.

Days passed by pleasantly, in careful observation,

the natural world elevating the mind,

the vividness of light.

A few days later he would write he had no doubt

“slaves pass happy and contented lives”.

On Saturday and Sunday they work for themselves,

he said, (so they had no single day of rest),

and for the English gentleman

there was nothing wrong with this.

A few pages later, he testifies

of the inhumanity

of the separation of families;

“an uncommonly stupid” man of half-shut eyes

and frightened look,

who confused civilised gesticulation

with the master’s blow.

More lowly than a helpless animal,

this man was not his brother.

Every evening after dark,

he sat listening and often got distracted

by the passing of a flying insect.

He spent days watching little creatures buzzing around a flower.

 What would have taken to break the silence of that night?



Sensational Butterflies

Natural History Museum 2014-05-25 14.09.04
Natural History Museum 2014-05-25 14.09.04 photo CC-BY Ernesto Priego


More living creatures


in a teaspoon of soil

than human beings

on Earth.

A butterfly landed

on a girl’s head

fluttering laying

eggs, as the girl’s

mother took photos

and the girl

stood still.


To be a butterfly:

the whole life

process for life’s sake

briefly, with its

moments of gruesomeness,

fear and beauty.

All worth it.