Welcome to the latest weekly installment of our blogs written by poets about what they have been doing since the lockdown began. We’re calling it From the Front Lines: with the public being urged to stay at home to hinder the progress of Covid-19, it often feels as if our front door is the front line. Today, we welcome Rhona Warwick Paterson, a cross-disciplinary artist and writer from Glasgow. She writes about trying to adjust to a world in which days lose meaning, it’s hard to read, and the streets are eerily quiet.
In normal times, our mornings were a frenzied blur of missing shoes, spilled cereal, cartwheels, guitar playing, toothbrush chasing – 30 minutes strung together by the words hurry-up and you’re-gonna-be-late. After kissing my babies goodbye I’d watch from the window as they bustle off with bed-sprung hair and newly minted breath suspended in the air. Feeling my eyes on them (soft now) they turn around with lolling goofball faces, I laugh and I open my hand to a wave, watching till they are out of sight.
On waking today, the silence of the house makes me ache. I hear the dawn chorus – louder and more hysterical than ever, a helicopter and a lone siren remind me that this ache is airborne. We all forget what day it is, one says Tuesday, the other Thursday, then we agree that Wednesday has most definitely been lost. Out of habit, I move to the window and see that my neighbours, too, are looking out from tenement windows. Our eyes connect and so I wave open-handed now that I feel their life as intimately as my own.
After breakfast we bounce around karate chopping, dancing, delirious with all the furniture pushed back, while the radio in the kitchen burbles tight-throated with death tolls, spread rates, the Working Poor. Wuhan medics shave their heads because there is no time to shower…a nurse in London weeps because, right now, words are not enough. Phones pulse light continually: alerts, messages, whatsapps groups (the mums, the neighbours, the school, the family, ’are you ok?’, ‘the Co-op has pasta!’, ‘any loo roll to spare?’, ‘make a poster on biodiversity”, sound off, scroll scroll scroll…
While they draw Hokusai Waves into clay with a toothpick, we watch as our allocated number – 117697 (a teardrop in the universal credit ocean) – remains frozen in the progress bar. When the clay waves are dry, I say, that’s when we’ll get through.
I know I should be reading. I pick up books and put them down again, a deeper need for the right calibration of wisdom and recognition pushes me from fiction and towards the rhythms of the heart. I take sips of Heaney, McGuckian and Oliver and am soothed by the internal migrations of those also dwelling in two worlds at once. Eventually, I fall into a dose and when I wake the opening stanza of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland has been freshly tilled in my head.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
My mother is on her own and hasn’t felt a touch of another human for three weeks. We see each other on the screen and again I wave, open-handed. After chit-chat about this and that, she casually says … if it comes I don’t want resuscitated and then … how do I get the Golden Gate Bridge as my background screen?
When the ten o’clock news is on and my boys are asleep in their beds, I go out for a walk. Glasgow’s streets are eerily empty. Only runners puff past, leaving me to wonder if I am indeed the last one walking in this new world. I look up at the lit windows to glimpse the silhouettes of family life and think how at a tilt, it feels like Christmas Day. Maybe it’s because of times like these that everything looks beautiful, even in the dark. It is on my way home that I remember Rilke.
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.
Rhona Warwick Paterson (RWP) is a cross-disciplinary artist and writer from Glasgow. She is currently working on a new collection of poems Living Room Laments commissioned for the Gallery of Modern Art (2019-21) and a book of prose Teaspoon Ontologies as Research Fellow for Theatrum Mundi 2020-21. In 2018 she was awarded the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for poetry and recent commissions include a series of choreopoems for Scottish Ballet and a new series of film poems for Fruitmarket Edinburgh. Her chapbooks Putty and Armatures are both published by slo-mo books and available at Good Press Books.