A poem for Barney

When local poet Meg Peacocke approached The Witham about creating a poem we were delighted to help. As a result, 40 members of the team (including staff, trustees volunteers and Friends) contributed a single sentence over a week at the start of May 2020. Meg then beautifully wove these together to create Barney Voices, a poem for our community in the time of Covid-19.

Our thanks to everyone who contributed and especially Meg for this wonderfully creative and collaborative response to these testing times.

Barney Voices

This is the record of Once-upon-a-time
when a small town, a continent, a whole world,
locked its doors against the coming of a plague.
Strangers and friends in the Castle keep, besieged.

Worse or better than 1666? Dreads,
anxieties, hopes, distresses much the same,
and the same old news, new always. The wolf’s paw
is at the window. Quick! Call the children in!

Remember cholera, 1849?
The river, how it stank. The looms not working.
How frightened we were! The poorest suffered most –
all the poor bodies tumbled into one pit.

How long might it last? And, what if we run out?
Yet there’s always something left in the cupboard
so we’re improvising a celebration
with a mix of fine plum pudding and plain bread.

We hope the cake will have turned out really well
and it will be a lovely day. There’s enough
for us all, so please help yourself to a slice.
We’ll let you in on the secret recipe.

In went optimism and pessimism,
scepticism, a pinch of the cynical
and a surprise  dollop of inspiration
along with some ingenuity and guile.

Taught myself to bake for the first time! Every
wooden surface in the house painted within
an inch of its life! I’ve grown expert in ZOOM!
Another successful loaf baked this morning!

But I’m dying for a haircut… And to get
to Boyes… Sick of the way my days are measured
in metres and slots! Guiltily enjoying
solitude. Me too! Wish they’d open the pubs,

glass recycling bin’s embarrassingly full.
With caring and sharing we’ll see each other
through to a better life beyond! So much good
could come from this difficult experience! But

it’s taken a pandemic to awaken
community spirit to levels last seen
generations ago. And just who are they,
these strangers we see out walking? Residents

rarely seen in the fresh air? Or visitors,
second-home-owners, escaping? A drab time.
Alan, old friend, no more visits. Missing you.
Perhaps I’ll take the same exit before long.

A melancholy context for reflection,
walking my dog in graveyards. And it’s raining,
so five times round the garden in waterproofs.
And to tell you the truth, I can’t help thinking

about dying on my own. Tell you the truth
I’m bored with it now, and my hands are washed raw!
My granddaughter’s fuming over home schooling,
so much incorrect grammar to rectify.

Enough of computers and television!
Unending gloomy news gets under my skin,
but just as I’ve gone outside, happy with birds
and church bells, an ambulance siren breaks in.

Never mind! Porridge or cornflakes this morning?
Off I go in rain or shine, enjoying walks
with great views, birds soaring oblivious and free.
At the top of the hill, curlews will greet me,

their haunting call will spur me on till next time.
Me, I’ve been learning to recognise bird song:
chiffchaff and chaffinch I love especially.
Gazing out at the first rains in forty days.

After so many rainbows, cherry blossoms
on a wet black bough. Cherry and crabapple,
the best in years! My apricot rose in bud
and clematis in full bloom, mauve-pink, blowsy

Nelly Moser. And the woods are full of stars,
wild garlic. Though this lockdown seems unending,
and we’re cut off, contained, concerned, I’m content
in my home and garden with the one I love.

While I was reading outside, to my delight
I saw a greenfinch – a great thrill to brighten
these difficult viral days. And the blackbird’s
enjoying a drink. The voice of a blackcap

outside my bedroom window, singing as though
he meant it for me! Strange that Lockdown should give
such treasures as birdsong in an empty street.
Thinking of life as it was; as it is now;

how it might be. In a Virtual Parliament
the Speaker of the House doesn’t need to say
“Order! Order!” or speak above the usual
hullaballoo. Lockdown provides this pleasure!

Every day feels like a Sunday. We’re learning
Spanish, a word a day, thanks to Lusia.
Mysteriously, now that we’ve cleared the garage,
an exercise bike has appeared, so maybe…

The rhythms of all our days: griefs, grievances,
laughter, surprise, our fears and pleasures. Voices.
Some time we’ll go our different ways. Meanwhile,
from the pockets of our lives we’ve pulled out words

phrases, sentences, a grand Teesdale picnic
for everyone to share. A small town talking.
Only, before you go, I’ve just one question:
When this is over, shall I be the same me?

With thanks to all forty contributors: Jo, Fiona, Susan,
Olga, Carol and Jeff, Bob, Judith, John, Jill, Jayne, Heather,
a second Susan, Ian, Matthew, Michelle, Hazel, Sarah,
Roger, Colin, Gaynor, Judith, Meg, June, Peter, another Peter,
Jan, Claire, Richard, Tony, Marilyn, Linda, Marie, one more Jo,
Elizabeth, Clare, Ada, Nicky, Anne and a further Sarah.