Birthday Gifts

My eldest gathers an ecosystem of treasures
like a store of botanical specimens for the apocalypse, or
a nest for lockdown hibernation.
And I, wandering with him and his brothers,
viewing the world like they do, at ground level or just above,
begin to spy jungles, mini-forests, whole worlds,
grooves and knots, stalactites of sap,
and breathe Thankyou
with the air
that still pushes my lungs to live.
I live.

Frontline (For the pandemic teachers)

Check temperature before you leave;
Second guess that winter sniffle.

Hand-sanitiser with your markers,
Enter the ever-shifting classroom space.

Greet the students in masks.
Watch attendance, but don't be afraid.

Be calm. Reassure. You may mention the war
But know how to read the faces before you.

Keep life normal
When nothing is normal.

Plan.
(Nothing will go to plan.)

Admit when you are not okay
But face the battle nonetheless.

Adapt and keep
The children safe.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Conversation with my son

At the sink he perches
atop his two-stepped seat to watch
a morning routine that's utter
prose for me, discovery for him:
how I wet
the shaving brush, lather soap,
then smooth the jawline
of my beard, and how
I brush my teeth without
protest, without needing
to eat the toothpaste with each brush.
And then how I open
the mirrored cabinet and take
my pill-cutter, split
Escitalopram in two, and scoop
water into my mouth to swallow.
"What will you swallow, Dad?"
How to answer?
"Medicine," I say, "to help
the chemicals in my brain."
"Maybe," he says, "when I am bigger,
I will take some medicine too."
Oh my love. "I hope not,"
is all I can say,
"because then you won't have
the sickness I have."
And as talk turns to other
two-year-old things,
my father heart churns
with the weight of this,
while pandemic and cabin fever
test the power of the pills, the rage
of being Dad drives the nerves
that splash water on my morning face.

You Will Not Fear

Hiding within my son's clothes,
it lay unseen until bedtime when
it scurried out from his sleeve, explaining
his tears through dinner and
the nick on his wrist spotted
only moments before.

It was not the night to visit Emergency.
Wind and rain buffeted the drive, as
unidentified spider in jar beside me,
I punctuated my frantic breaths with
comma prayers and apostrophe thoughts
of the worst that could happen
in a waiting room at night.


Arriving to warnings plastered on doors,
I tried not to gawk at the three who were kept
behind a sealed door, faces masked,
breathing an obvious chore.
And while we waited, my son
calm, no swelling, spider determined
to see out the night, I pondered
risking it and going home,
but stayed instead, and tried to love
my neighbour from a distance,
sharing smiles that said,
"We're in this together," while mind returned
again, again to the microbes that may,
may not circle the air, and tried not to fear
the pestilence stalking the night, or the day
that I may become one others fear.

Coronavirus, with OCD

Wash your hands; don’t touch your face.

Did I wash my hands, and did

I touch my face after? Before?

Don’t be afraid but be aware.

Wash your hands; don’t touch your face.

These sightless microbes swim in air.

Your nose is dripping. Touch your face.

Wash your hands. Don’t be afraid.

It all may come to nothing; don’t

Touch your face. Now wash your hands.

Grief Before Grief

Here death is a vulture:
devours face and memory,
claws at carrion, feeds on fullness
like life was flesh,
fit for the taking.

But life is a million
intangible moments, all
dazzling and passing
in Eden-sunk grief

and Life won't go silently,
fighting reduction,
while Death - old materialist -
denies Life ever was.

We have seen it, and held it.
We bear its witness.
We stroke its unresponsive hand
and pray to beg it back.

Bloom

Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
(Psalm 126:5)

You’ll be glad to hear your tree is sprouting leaves
and in the midst of blossom, tiny fruit.
Your little brother’s learning all the names
for almond, flowering gum and bottlebrush;
yet you by now will know far more than this.
The grass is thriving; this week we had it mown
and all about’s the fragrance of fresh lawn.
All this you’ve never seen: the buzzing stuff
of life, but life for us waiting like
an almond tree, a hopeful Jesse-shoot.
The bursting things of spring have nothing on
the harvest feast that sings where you now dwell.
We never knew your smile, yet this we’ve known:
for every tear we’ve shed, a seed is sown.

My own garden I have neglected

Gather your spiritual bouquet…
(Francis de Sales)

Plenteous winter rain left
the backyard a grassy forest
where mallow and clover ran riot
and kikuyu spread its runners wide.
The rhizomatic tangle, lush and unbeatable,
enfolded in itself a toddler’s trucks,
a sandpit shovel, a bouncy ball, a peg,
and I, bent on order yet at odds with nature,
push a feeble mower through the shin-high jungle,
and vainly seek a clearing
to untangle my mind.