Years now, since the solemn men
from the Co-op came, and zipped you
into a blue bag. Not your style.
I took your black fedora
from its hook in the hall and donned it
for you on the doorstep, waving,
as they drove you off into the void.
Today you’re waving in my laptop screen
from your garden cabin window,
wearing your Chinese mandarin hat,
laughter muted by the pane of glass,
your small granddaughter waving back
above ruby tulips, hands held high
in the late Spring light.
This child of mine, almost an adult now,
looks over my shoulder,
considers the snapshot,
and, solemn as those men, says:
‘We were Social Distancing then,
Grandad and me’ – as if the virus,
not content with claiming the present,
has colonised our past.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2020. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2020 was Janette Ayachi.
This poem inspired me with its recording of memory, documentation, fragments, the things people carry in grief, the things poets need to breathe. But did we know that at the moment we were living the best memory; did we pay enough attention to the abundance of being present? In this poem, we follow the narrator’s reaction as her daughter jests about ‘social distancing’ in an old family photograph, a statement that seeps in and intoxicates the past as if there was no other time, and springs the occurrence of questioning what if normality was a daydream, and they have always been plagued by restrictions met on the bodies of space between them? Distance and separation are transgenerational, the space between the object and the subject, a family tree split into binary, by a window.
This poem is a response to a photograph taken by me many years ago, and which I refer to in the second and third stanza. I was very close to my father, and cherish this photo. I’d never thought of responding to it with a poem until one day, during lockdown, when I was looking at it on my laptop, and my daughter interpreted the image entirely within the context of the pandemic. Suddenly the photograph seemed to lose its original innocence. In that moment, a whole sequence of past events connected in my mind, beginning with my father’s death.