Not so very long ago, when I was fit
as a butcher’s dog, what seems like
a time warp passing across the Milky Way
when the seeds of our downfall were sown
in a way that’s beyond comprehension,
there grew a progenitor, an apocalyptic
but as yet unknown force, more powerful
than anything we knew, to which we
could never yield, because we had
no choice, like war, but without plans.
The victims are dazed, half conscious,
half alive, inflamed and drowning in
black water, systems fractured, powered off
including ordnance, a military defensive
without armour, damage limitation for
lost causes, no time to bury their dead
the wives and mothers, sons and daughters
husbands, fathers, family and friends
left out in the cold. No touching of hands
bereavement on hold, for some other time
another world, some other parallel existence.
As if in that other unreachable, longed for
place of sanctuary and rest, Elysian Fields
where angels dare with mercy’s offered
by saints with greatest care, unprotected
in spite of fallible humanity, disregarding
concern for their own …
This is what they came to do. Isn’t it true
they save lives, these compassionate heroes
the very normal, extraordinarily ordinary
supernaturally humane people, who walk
among us, the ordinary, extraordinarily lucky
human beings. Do we truly deserve them?
From time to time, we show appreciation
for their dedication as they run between
the cracks and the faults in our lives.
But we rarely see behind their professional
masks, the anxieties, the personal struggles,
the humanity that exudes from every pore
even when you look them straight in§ their eyes
in the line of fire, they prepare a family for
the inevitable, another ending too close
to the last. Overwhelmed by new beginnings
and more bad NEWS …
The truth that is too sanitised for consumption
in our comfy armchair homes, we only want
to hear not this; not what we truly need to know.
But how else will we comprehend an urgent need
To cry. To lobby. To action. To shout from the hilltop
To understand. To march and never give up
lighting the fire and fighting the liar in the dock
fighting for the right to life, the right to social justice
not the right to exploit for greed, for enrichment
for personal gain, or rebel against natural wisdom
and science, or assert a semblance of civil rights.
Civil Rights for whom?
Whose pain and suffering will this alleviate?
How much will those angels and saints endure?
Facing an onslaught of mind-numbing ignorance,
whilst facing their own demise? How long for those
who mourn, to rise and grieve for the final tingling
touch of a hand? For their spring, barely sprung
their lives just begun, not yet able to understand
what they are losing ... and the angels chose to care.
A haunting echo of children singing, somewhere
across the playground, somewhere across the universe,
somehow you feel an unexpected swelling in the depths
of your throat that caught you by surprise, unaware.
How dare their sweetest innocence awaken this grief
inside, a fear of Armageddon, after a daylong toll of death
you were at your most vulnerable, you were least prepared
least able to hold it all inside. Your defences were down.
There is no denying this feeling, when all is said and done.
From out of the mouths of children, who opened your eyes
to coming home, to reconciliation, to finding your love
came your most important gift of all … your own truth.
© 2021 John Anstie
All Rights Reserved
[This piece of writing is based on a sort of interview style conversation with a friend, a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, who has been at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic since it started. I am very grateful to her that she participated willingly, at times almost as if she was glad of an opportunity to talk about what she has been through with someone outside of the medical establishment, outside of the claustrophobic bubble that has constricted her life for so long, but to which she has dedicated herself with unquestioning professionalism. One very remarkable and courageous woman.]
This poem was first published in the December 2021 edition of the BeZine