Being less than an activity
we empty out the life that hangs
like code in the air, but for how long
does it survive there if the air is white and lush,
more benevolent to the city than ever, whose leaves are out
of a season we are missing. It hangs
on the window like a recrimination,
a rainbow trail, the wolf’s chalky invite
to the last kid hiding in the clock.
And like a call; and is filled with calls
of the chattering species
whose voices are carried from house to house
parties and face times, many heard, the more silent.
And like nothing but indifference
growing warmer in the tangled biome to its human
carriers. We pick our way prudently down the street.
The person who passes is like us
a matrix of infection. We turn around at the head
of the aisle that has someone in it, and wash our hands
and shrink. Our hands are very dry now. Our mean gestures have all changed.
When in this poem I say we I mean a nuclear family in London
who are lucky. Having outside space.
The ball keeps getting kicked over the fence, and there is someone
there to return it.
A friend, who is Chinese, has been repeatedly abused in the street.
Mean gestures, filthy speech. The street is also the space
where our neighbours are clapping. Where we perform distance
to contain the bad humours that may be hidden
in another body. Hidden inside a room that can’t be left
because of the news, the violent man, the guard, the border. It is now
very easy to get sectioned. We consider ourselves indefinitely
separated from our friends and lovers and nothing will be the same
until it is, and the amazonification
of the planet will be complete, and we’ll be released
from our incommensurate lockdown to party and write poems
upon poems about the virus and the discourse of war.
And some will still not be able to go out into
the streets still full of the performance of abuse.
For now we pick apart the hem looking for silver linings
inside the garment of bad surprises.
My kids have been teaching me about black holes, clock time
and dentistry in ancient Egypt.
I thought the singularity was a site of infinitely dense matter
but it’s the profound energy that distorts space and time.
They’re overjoyed to learn that if they tried to pass
through its horizon they’d be spaghettified,
their whole body a stream of plasma
one atom wide. If your being was not then empty
it would be still, watching the universe shift
and quicken before it.
Right now I’m writing this standing up because I’m teaching
and working and printing and feeding and remembering
and in pain. When you’re sick or in pain it’s hard to remember
what it was like not to be, the self that streamed
painlessly through another world is not yourself, the light
stuttering on her face was not your light or your face.
How could I have been so stupid not to notice
how easy it has always been for me to move down the street?
Right now I am trying to read and not read the accounts
of the anaesthetists. I misread the inhalation
of toxic gas as toxic glass. I don’t want to think of all the people alone
I tell the kids to write about their experiences
of this big historical singularity
and hide its data from them. I could say it’s like the way
the black hole can’t be seen but shifts everything around it
but that’s a comparison in a poem and the kids just laugh.
They know that the collapse of everything clears
the air at least. How cool the sky would always be
without the scratching of motors. We could lag together,
smooth in our suspension.
We stay in the yard.
In its green and yellow is an image
of the lungs we will be given
if we cross the horizon and abandon
the nuclear family, private property, obedient domains.
1 April 2020
Andrea Brady’s books of poetry include The Strong Room (Crater, 2016), Dompteuse (Book Thug, 2014), Cut from the Rushes (Reality Street, 2013), Mutability: Scripts for Infancy (Seagull, 2012), and Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination (Krupskaya, 2010). She is Professor of Poetry at Queen Mary University of London, where she founded the Centre for Poetry and the Archive of the Now.