The Lockdown Blues
A giant tape measure, with one person standing at one and another person at the other end.


By Claire Emba

A giant tape measure, with one person standing at one and another person at the other end.Pandemic,
mass panic
memories shifting and surfacing 
self-isolation takes on new meaning.
Hastily, hand washing posters taped up overnight,
hand gel in homes used while it flows,
squirted on open palms in shops
where they once spritzed you with perfume.
Sanitization is now the soothing balm –
to keep us from harm,
to ward away the whispering of panic
with practical magic.

Shops closed,
cafes a memory in only one day.
Things change swiftly
and that is what the shifty killer demands,
murmuring murder and mishap,
upending the smoothness of our lives,
showing us the invisible germs we ignored,
the snags in the infrastructure 
in no uncertain terms.

The blossoms mouths are open wide
greedily grasping the sun,
birds swoop with more vigour it seems
as I share their sense of urgency.
I go for swathes of time
not remembering that things are any different.
But my sleeping brain jolts awake,
worry-stab of instant recall
and at night I strain for the sounds of cars on the busy main road,
the enjoyment of peace compromised by the threat of abnormality. 
With a sense of relief I find them;
the subdued yet steady pulse of a country still living,
heart still beating.

I reach for subtle threads of life wavering,
imagine the breathlessness,
and feel my own breath disjointed,
discordant heartbeat,
nerves jangling with heightened senses:

I will them solace
I will them be brave
I will them recover
and their kin be comforted.

I replay the scene of earlier in the day –
the sombre queue outside the pharmacy,
not a complaint at one in one out,
not a sign of dissent at the wait:
calm, scared children facing their fate,
anxious at the thought of a medicine drought,
scrupulously observing the six-foot gap of social distancing –
new terms we’ve learned, new rules we can follow for a sense of security.
Now, I’m reminded of childhood,
of the serious way I played party games
Sleeping lions
Pass the parcel
Musical chairs.
Were they rehearsals for scares such as these?
Games to stem the dark flood of such mortal fears?
Well Ring-a-roses worked for the plague.

A dour queue of civilians,
when a woman laughs, it startles,
a bark of alien sound in a wasteland.
I quietly board a bus with two passengers and a driver in gloves 
almost afraid to say hello
afraid to breathe
afraid to touch
afraid of the anxious exhalations of the other passenger.
I speed towards home like I live in a war zone
I speed towards home and the comforts within:
tea, food, films, books –
not so bad then, not so different.
The hungry birds going about their day, business as usual,
bird table ransacked,
flitting from tree to tree unperturbed,
or so is the animal to human perspective illusion
for animals must always be alert –
a danger sense we humans have ignored
at our peril?

More of Claire’s poems and photography can be found on the Circus of Thought Facebook blog.

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