Poems in Time for Lent, Covid-19 and other occasions



A Visit to the Gallery of Gifts

The poems reproduced here have been selected from a collection I first put together several years ago. I needed to respond in words to the deaths of three people I loved. They died in rapid succession through the spring of 2012.

Of course, this year 2020, this spring, when across the world, death has come knocking on so many doors, so many people have died, and so many more been bereft, but left without words, without due ceremony through which to say goodbye, these poems have had a new force for me.

Putting words to trauma and loss seems an essential part of living through them, maybe of grasping them, digesting them. Much poetry is written in such times. Most of the results are not really for sharing – their task is just relief for the time and for the writer. Yet, in my case, as the years have passed since 2012, and the raw grief has faded, I find my need to return to the words and to address the people they describe, is still with me. And for years now, in the same season each year, I have kept bringing out and reciting the poems and they have  continued to have something to say to me. And each year, the selection is a bit different and I make small changes to the texts.

And the collection has extended to include more people and different dates, so that it is now a sort of portrait gallery in words, most of them of people from an earlier generation than my own, whose lives are now over, but who were close to me at earlier stages of my life, and played a formative part in who and how I am. And each Spring, the gallery lights up in my brain, so to speak, and somehow calls on me to visit, wander round, and pay my respects.

But that is surely how it is for everyone, as time passes. Everyone will have a list similar to mine, if they live long enough. Everyone who has lived for any length of time always has. The deaths recorded here are unique to my life, but a sequence of deaths belongs in all lives, once they have extended for long enough. So there is something typical here.

Increasingly for me, these poems nowadays constitute at least as much an appreciation of the lives and personal qualities of the people described – their ways of living, their ways of ageing – as they are expressions of my sense of loss at their departure. As much about life as about death.

Quite how I air the poems each year remains an issue. Religions are much better poets than I am, even though some of their images and references no longer have currency for many of my generation. But I miss the holding structure, context, dignity, wise impersonality and also straight-talking of the religious ceremonial, the time-honoured “dramatic parts” and language adopted by priest and congregation. Without those elements, both the reader and the audience of these poems can feel a bit tongued-tied.

It’s a work still in hand. How to address my lost loved ones, these shadowy companions still present on my road ? A fitting sense of ceremony, due reverence, and yet intimacy ; a need for witness ; a need, as reader, to be comfortable in the moment and in my skin. I have known these people and shared moments with them. I need to say out loud that I still live in the gift of them.

May 2020


To my father

I tracked you down at last
to that elusive

“Chapel of Rest.”
The nurse escorting me

had never
stopped talking

but now she left.
Your mouth gaped.

Your nose was transparent.
There was no blood

moving there
to block the light.

I had failed, we knew,
to complete you.

I was bound to fail,
for both our sakes.

And I must go now,
I said,

and search deep
for my own spurs

to action
my own judges

to assuage.
You had beautiful

wide and grey-green eyes
which softened

for JS Bach
and “Vespers”

and for my mother.
Now the days

are made to pass
without your witness.

You are passed over.
You are become

the past.



Word from Tina, 93.
Tina Parrot 1915 – June 2008

I know my time is nearly up

I never knew there were so many
trees in Surrey !

In certain regions above the trees
the sky is pure mother-of-pearl

I have found this last part of my life
the most difficult of my human experience

I never knew there were so many
trees in Surrey !

Old age has made me realise
I am not at all holy

I never knew there were so many
trees in Surrey !

And now you see perhaps
why I get lonely

These poems belong to the collection “Poems in Time for Lent”; see the whole collection here.



Suddenly from nowhere
the snowdrops have arrived.
Those small bowed heads.
It’s as if they hope this pale
coming out
will escape our notice.
But there is more joy in them
for me
than all the flamboyant
lushness to follow.
The wind today is deathly chill
but those frail and hanging heads
are dancing to it. Something burns
in them
and returns
and returns.



I Remember how I Sat

I remember how I sat.
There was nothing to hold on to.
Only my own flesh and the strong

bones inside. I’d not been
conscious of my bones before
(except when they broke).

Everything in my world
was either in shreds
or seeking to shred me.

And a cold wind whistled through
my veins and around all
my corners. Even my ground

had slipped from me.
I hung and flickered
like a flame without fuel.

And he said, you sit so fraught
in your carapace of skin,
straining for answers

straining with a dark angel for resolution.
Spare yourself, my friend. Breathe easy.
Take pleasure in your skin.

The insoluble
will continue on its way.
Be still in perfect readiness

for opportune events.
There’s nothing better.
There’s nothing else.


Pictures by the author.