For the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'
My Dad is building a wall. Twirling bricks in the air, bedding them down in a quarter-bond, flicking the trowel to lay a mat of fresh darbo. With one brick after the next in a cheeky wink of an eye the edifice rises and so does the scaffold but no one can tell what he’s building. He has abandoned the architect’s plans. A loose crowd has gathered, observing Social Distancing, as speculations spread: he's building a new Tower of Babel, it’s the new walls of Jericho, Jerusalem, Kingdom Come, he’s making a Stairway to Heaven, it’s a folly, it’s a marvel, it’s a sanatorium free from the sickness, it’s a dam to stop both tide and time, he’s building a Neverland where anything goes.
You move through the space trying to touch as little as possible, and would, if you could, lighten yourself so your feet could lift a few inches from the floor. Over the last few days we have all been made more attentive to the aura’s that surround us, our own personal biospheres of electro-magnetic energy. Even if most can’t see them, as some more mystically attuned people claim to, we recognise their potentially infectious existence.
And the ventilator makes another regular sigh. Your mind is a sanitised side room full of bleeps and whirrs where the familiar names of things melt and orientations blur. The white tiled floor is the wall at your back, a compact and undeniable once-upon-a-time, too solid and certain to look at with more than a furtive glance. The ceiling’s expanse is the hazy horizon line where the North Sea kisses the foot of the sky, toward which you have tossed how many memories with an expert flick of the wrist? The pane of glass into the ward is a TV screen showing a soap opera you assumed you inhabited, filling the void with all of those familiar roles and routines.
And the ventilator makes another regular sigh, a slow mechanical exhalation. You know, Nirvana literally means ‘blowing out’, an emptying, a quenching, a sluicing of self into śūnyatā through the gates of ten thousand things: magpie hoards, tower blocks, get well cards, daisy chains, fish gills and razor blades, the sightless eyes of a forest of needles through which a caravan of dromedaries trudge toward a sunset, their two-toed splayed feet sinking into dust dunes of lost civilisations, misplaced wedding rings, rune casts, pollen coated bee fur, shipping forecasts, Michael Portillo's voluminous nostrils, the signatures drying on birth and death certificates and Yul Bryner intoning, etcetera, etcetera etcetera!
And the ventilator makes another regular sigh to the bleeps, chirps and whirs of the electronic menagerie. Your blood flows through transparent tubes into the dialysis machine and back into your body, a conservatory for your circulatory system. My Dad is building his miraculous wall and no one can guess what it’s part of, but he looks so much younger than he should. Outside the sealed room of your sedated mind the world serpent constricts its coils and its freshly brewed venom transmits between persons, more infectious than a giggle in school assembly, as paranoid and undiscerning as a lynch mob in the grip of mass hysteria, as profound and transformational as love released from the moorings of desire.
Bob Beagrie has published numerous collections of poetry and several pamphlets, most recently 'Civil Insolencies' (Smokestack 2019), 'Remnants' written with Jane Burn (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press (2019), 'This Game of Strangers' – written with Jane Burn (Wyrd Harvest Press 2017), 'Leasungspell' (Smokestack 2016). His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines and has been translated into Finnish, Urdu, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, Estonian and Karelian. He lives in Middlesbrough and is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University, United Kingdom