Summer poem from the Splinters collective.

Leonie Rushforth
21 July 2020, 6.48pm
Panels of this kind were placed on the walls of houses to warn against the plague. A plague epidemic raged in Augsburg between 1607 and 1636.
Screenshot: Unknown author - Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

The sky delivered a bewildering blue
day after day. The blossom frothed too soon.
We woke in the small hours – startled –
as if we’d dreamed we were lying in crosshairs,
as if now nothing could be taken as read.
Overnight the old had vanished,
the furniture of home been rearranged.
Predators sold off their holdings in airlines.
Biopharmaceuticals with beautiful names
made landfall. Only the early birds
cottoned on to the cashing out, the cashing in.

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From inside our structures of feeling
we listened to neighbours, the sirens,
the squeal of a gate, the binmen working
their way down the street, the empty playground.
We learned to re-learn minutes and distances.
There grew an unspoken understanding
that we were losing more than we could see
going. Then from our seats in the theatre
of numbers, we watched the tragic drama
of eugenics play out in graphs. Confusions
were seeded, privacies filched. Exhaustion
settled like dust on the kind. We noticed
the encouragements to dislike China
become more cheerfully insistent.

The swifts screamed in. New leaves fluttered
in the only crowds. The first rose was ahead
of itself but we the people lagged behind
while the frail died in thousands. People wed
to the idea they could still take advantage
of the passing hours to better themselves
merely followed the lead of their leaders,
whose barefaced intent was to steal a march.
All that was metaphor returned to the body.
Permissions were given. Parties broke out.
The street found itself applauding the dead.

Then the costs were too great to be counted.
Steadfast gatherers of facts lost their minds,
scientists the prize of their innocence;
the troubled exchanged their messages like birds,
at dawn. We flocked to the sea. Impunity smirked
at the podium, on the record, in uniform,
on camera, in front of the skull and crossed bones.
News of the decomps was allowed to seep out.
The borders were closed to shore up the fears.
Payrolls were purged, bullies fully insured.
We reeled through June. The roses exploded.

This piece was first published in the July Splinters column.

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