Bins at the curb, I pause
in a night of deep quiet
the thought that no-one else is here.
Sleepy suburban street rarely parties;
nights are seldom wild around here.
Yet silence catches with surprise:
no-one walking home from shops,
no night-time joggers,
no cars coming home.
No feet sharing this curb with mine.
And this weekly domestic act becomes
a moment of strange resistance,
a heartbeat-long yearning
to see other neighbours lugging their bins,
to duck down the street to No.16 and say,
"This package is yours. The postie
dropped it here by mistake."
But it's after 8 and I've no mask;
the edge of this block is the wall for my feet.
To love my neighbour tonight is to go
back inside and pray.
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation…2 Corinthians 6:2
We did not choose you, would not repeat you.
Grief has built upon grief: ash and smoke first,
Then this, a time we can only call
"Unprecedented". And how it goes on,
How quickly "normal" becomes a word
Stripped of all meaning. How quickly "Stay safe"
Replaces "See you later." We saw none
Of this coming. Jetpacks and life on Mars
Were my childhood predictions, not this.
Yet future creeps up unannounced, and we,
Had we heard her coming, would
have moved to
Iceland, or bought shares in hand sanitizer.
Neither would we have chosen growth, or grace
Bulldozing our plans and saving us instead.
"Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created."
St Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises
Even this, Ignatius?
When all are in retreat in their homes,
when consoling and desolating spirits
vy for the attention of every moment,
when truth is in short supply
and what truth we have is despair,
can we catch divine movement behind a face mask,
hear the Spirit call beyond garden walls,
see will and purpose despite ailing hope,
even now can we notice
Christ animate the soul
though it flags and fails?
As the changing but constant expectations
of a year that no-one chose keep knocking
and the day of the Lord lingers and tarries from my watch-post,
to take this one quietly, on the bench,
with Saul and the others who couldn't run the race.
No shame in being worn out when
the swift themselves are flagging
and the flags
are all at half-mast or lower.
No prizes for laps of honour, least of all in a mask.
Preserve breath, preserve what
energy you have left, I say.
Though my words burn and I
would be better served not to speak
but to hear.
A voice like a whisper, like fire,
like a victor:
My yoke is easy. My burden is light.
No shoulders strong enough for burdens today;
even then, there is grace.
First you will learn about smiles,
how much you smile,
what's contained in a smile,
what's implied in the different degrees of smile:
in a curl of the lip at a funny thought,
in the mouth's outstretched corners
to greet the close acquaintance,
in the sardonic phrase,
the empathic moment.
All these things you will learn
when they cannot be seen.
And eyes. You will learn about eyes.
How readily you can recognise eyes
across a courtyard or carpark, how
much you can guess of a heart or a day
from the eyes poking out above the nose.
And breath. You will learn about breath.
You will taste it, smell it, absorb it all day.
You will choose your words and your silence to preserve
moments when you can simply breathe.
You will long to stand
in the garden
beside your office
and do nothing
in that afternoon air
but take off your mask and breathe.
And faces - you will catch, in their absence,
the beauty, the wonder of faces,
the heart-catching, God-splendoured glory of faces.
You will long for the faces
that you loved and despised,
will search the room for these faces,
will wish that these faces
could transfigure their otherness straight into yours.
You will cover your face
and stifle your breath
and halve your smile
in hope of the day,
to work for the day,
when all of our faces are back.
Yes, it takes our freedoms
because sometimes love does that:
for neighbour, for stranger,
for one who walks the same streets,
walks by your desk,
shops where you shop,
shares the same air.
Sometimes love lays down
rights - freedom of movement,
freedom of assembly,
freedom to smile and have others see -
because sometimes love judges
the more needful thing,
the truer way to be free.
Listen: the almond has something white to announce...
Tiny white heralds like angels burst
from coronawinter barren branch,
whispering, echoing, promising.
The time is slow
but gives glimpses.
The promise is faint
The season's sure
that waits in the whispers.
Truer than winter, truer than spring:
the eternal soon.
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.
(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.
What the day brings is anyone's guess:
Students in masks, temperature checks at the front gate,
But what else? Prognoses and rules change by the minute;
What yesterday was harmless today may destroy.
Brave new day that has such features in it.
And so, the day lying open
Like a box, like a question,
I rejoice to see vermilion horizon
That smiles on the locked-down and the risen alike.
Being a neighbour is fraught at any time, but in a time when suburbs, states and families are being isolated from one another, it is even harder. As an Australian, being part of an island nation has much impact on how we view our own place in the world, and in this time of reminding myself continually that “no man is an island”, I have turned to this theme for the third and final installment in my video poem series, “And who is my neighbour?”
It’s been a delight to collaborate with Asher Graieg-Morrison who has supplied music for each of these films. Check out his rich and textured work here.