Sections Reproduction is a Problem
Walworth, London

A non exhaustive list of things that are now gone, and other poems

Alison Powell

These poems were written over fifteen weeks of quarantine, lockdown, self-isolation or whatever you want to call the period of home-based existence between March and July 2020. I wrote them intending to document the outward changes to my daily struggle. But like so many other binaries in my own life (work/home; gay/straight; intellect/emotion; domestic life/public persona) the binary between the outer and inner life began to break. The poems traverse the territory between the outward, everyday solidarity of my inner-city neighbourhood and the profound internal questioning that solitude (facilitated by co-parenting between two households) occasionally provided during this period, along with the parallel stresses of parenting under a pandemic and keeping up with work. The political is personal here; along with the personal being political. Social media and virtual communications provide lifelines and adult conversation, but not the missing bodily intimacy or social exploration. Just before publication in 2021, I added a final poem which tries to address the terrifying sadness and uncertainty which characterizes our collective re-emergence into a world where so much grief, struggle and precarity remain unaddressed. Yet those of us who have survived must still carry these experiences, fears, hopes and potential into a loving, more radical world.

– April 2021

Go Home
March 24, 2020

“Your meeting attendees are waiting!”

Maybe, everyone has been waiting

for my time and toil to be delivered

on time and seamlessly through video chat.

No need to heat the office or water the plants I brought back

stuffed into a bag on the side of my bicycle.


The letter from the school is printed in Comic Sans

which easier to read if you have a disability:

“A large amount of the learning will need to be carried out online so will therefore obviously

need to be supervised by an adult at all times.”


And then, “Your meeting attendees are waiting!”

“Call for papers”

“Call for research grants on issues related to the current crisis”


“Join our live stream”

“Remote event!”


I am not a brain on a stick;

I am a body in a house.

The bodyhouse for a child who is here, hot in the sun

Wanting something, wanting nothing

Wanting to leave, wanting to be held tighter.

Tighter, against the fear, the knowledge

that a sunny day was never going to promise a day of adventure

that a trip outside the house was illicit

that your friends couldn’t be trusted, only images on the screen.


Fall into my arms.

Hold me.

Will it ever end?

Egg Poem
30 March 2020

“No eggs, you can get them at Lidl but only two”

Says the butcher, handing over bags of chops and mince.

He wonders why I’m not buying more.


No eggs in the supermarket

Someone heard there were eggs at M&S

At Blackfriars, someone’s mum in Lincolnshire had eggs.


We always have eggs.


Eggs in a Tupperware, blanketed in paper towel

Set on the wall on the patio.

Eggs in a box with a decoration drawn by a young friend

Pushed over the road in a doll’s carriage.


“There were no eggs”, my friend says, then

“Eggs from my mum

Eggs offered when I walked down the street”

Eggs at the wholesalers: we can buy them as a group.

Egg discussions in mobile chat groups

Along with stories of coping in a tiny flat

Being worried about health, work, pay, the future.


Standing in the backyard with applause bouncing off the tower block, watching Venus hanging in the air, clapping and yelling for people who can’t hear because they are inside tending the sick, sheltering the dying.


There are no eggs, they say.

We always have eggs.

Sacrifice Poem (Who is at work?)
April 8, 2020

Every day, rope in hand, I

Open the door.


First thing, the soft smell of flowers

And new greening.


Second thing, the birds

Cooing, calling, tussling,

Floating, blasting like torpedoes

Over treetops, above the flats.


Third thing, breathe in

Cool in the morning, and no sound

But swish of rope and slap of feet.

Step step step



At eight thirty

The man from Number Seven comes

Newspaper under his arm and

Fog of cigarette smoke over

Sloping shoulders

In an ancient oiled jacket


Every day:

“Good morning”

“Getting fit?”


“Good morning, y’all right?”

“As well as can be”

“Good morning”

“You’re making progress, girl”

“Good morning”

“Well – we have to stop meeting this way”


Every day, I hold out hope that

I’ll see him tomorrow walking

Share thirty seconds of Cockney greetings,

Keep him alive.

Skipping Poem
April 3, 2020

When I twisted my ankle

During the permitted morning run

On Westminster Bridge

(the sound of the tide rushing out with no boats)

I delicately walked past

The hospital where the prime minister


(don’t say dying).


Police at the gates

Panic on the faces of people rushing in

ID cards held aloft, to face the day.


In front, a rainbow floral display

Perpetual plastic flowers

Reads I [heart] NHS


A worker gives it a glance, rushing.

Does she think, like me

That this effusion seems too close

To a funeral display?


Behind, three ambulances

Are lined up

In the emergency bay.


Across the road, a dozen cameras

A dozen operators

Anchors in suits

Producers on the phone



Later their broadcasts speak

Of war and “fighting spirits”

Of bravery and sacrifice.


Down below, in the playground

Of the hospital daycare

A woman runs with a stroller

Mask on her face

Through the doors

With the child

On her way to work.


Who battles:

Who sacrifices?

A non exhaustive list of things that are now gone
April 14, 2020

Cresting sound of cheering echoing off the sports ground on a warm afternoon

Putting on lipstick while riding the Tube

Many footsteps echoing on cobblestones

Pub chatter, overheard

A ripped open packet of crisps sitting on a sticky table; picking one up and eating it

Taking the night bus from Dalston Junction

Sharing a few starters for the table

Sex on the back of a toilet stall door at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern

The landing stack for Heathrow, every 90 seconds over the back garden

“Let’s just walk around until we find somewhere with an open table”

Standing on the corner still talking when someone said they were about to leave but no one has left yet




Someone bringing a round of drinks

Popping in to Heal’s to see what rich people have for lamps

The preacher outside Brixton station, and the lady who sings with that amazing voice



Touching someone new

Touching someone.

May 11, 2020

If you were looking for some dark optimism

From a walk among the tower blocks, in the gloaming

What would you miss, in the long low seduction of the light

Waning pink behind the clouds, behind the towers?


The river moves; the air’s scent of flowers

Floats past as I hang on the concrete

(was it always so thick with lichen?)

And weep.


The corner store is closed, shutters down.

No milk or old onions, no sweets.

I saw an ambulance parked there last week.


By the Thames a couple passes arm in arm

Springtime romance blooming, their masks fitted tight.

He jokes about throwing himself in the river

“But” she says, “you’ll be at work”.


In the yellow evening I want to hope

Passing through the square with the bunting

And the jolly blonde families in deck chairs

2 metres apart, on their front lawns,

The stylish young arrayed with plastic cups

Celebrating victory 75 years ago.


The dead are still dead.

And the living, us

Are waiting.


This is the easy part.

Songs on the air in the flower scented evening

Barbecue and take-out beer.

Next week, tomorrow, the beer must be served

The trash taken out

The children taught


And how?

To be alive is


Be alive, until

The spring is spring without you.


(In memory of Barbara Powell, November 1950–May 2002)

Hang Time
May 26, 2020

For these weeks the pieces

Of life are


In the viscous time of confinement.


And meanwhile

The world rearranged

The roadrunner ran too far

Still in the air

Feet scrambling.


And in this endless moment


Some pieces shifted


Unsettled by a force we couldn’t see.


In acceleration

To the time of action

For a last second all’s


And then suddenly the shape of things


Is new.

The feet hit the ground.

The world is unrelenting


And we are too; the world.


I have never touched you

Not even a hand on the curve of shoulder

Face brushed in a perfunctory hug.


We hang here suspended

In company,


For the longest moment


Endless and too soon to end.

June 6, 2020

(this week’s soundtrack Jimmy Cliff and Alpha & Omega)

(this week’s US news: a woman in a New York park harasses a birdwatcher who, being black, cannot be?)


Watching the birds

(a safe activity

for a white lady; but if you were a black man

in Brooklyn, perhaps someone might call the police)

Then the helicopters, a pair

Wheeling above the blocks.


Watching who?

Bodies on the move.

Lives matter, black lives matter.


All those weeks

Who clapped? Who saved lives?

Who died?

(Covid-19 killed four times as many black and minority people)


Who did we celebrate?

(the Prime Minister survived)

Whose death was not a crime?

(Belly Mujinga, spat at on the job by a white man in a suit)


Black lives matter;

George Floyd was murdered on camera.


My stomach turns.


In the front garden

My daughter says

Two magpies bullied a jay

Pecked its head

For being in the wrong tree

At the wrong time.


Indigenous lives matter;

Whose land made my home?

Whose disadvantage gave me my chance?


I learned to critique on the basis of race

In the books I read

I learned segregation

In the city I lived.

Casual violence

Reproduced endlessly.


So strong in me that I touched a black hand

For the first time

In London, aged 35.


Down by the river

Swifts dive

(African migrants)

And the young walk, each with a sign, marker on cardboard

Silence is Violence.

Racism is A Pandemic


Black lives matter.

Don’t say the words

Make the change.

I can’t be free until others are too.

Midsummer poem
June 20, 2020

This essay about the future

Could never imagine the present

Hot rain, mosquitos,



From a cough

That couldn’t be contained because he had to work

Driving the bus that she took

Between the jobs that paid the rent.


From a cough

That the mother, grandmother caught

And had nowhere to go

No sun, no air.


From a cough

That the bat had, before she was hunted out of the cave;

The pangolin?


This end of time continues

Improbably, and we play games

As the sun sets


Watch the clouds


Take the last train home, at 10 pm

Before the rain.

Wake from dreaming



Of everyone loved and missed and untouchable across the distance.

Of every new place’s air never smelled

In the moment of first stepping down from the train.

Of every surprise encounter

Coffee bar raised eyebrow,

Radio program in the local language



Caught between nostalgia for then and never,

The memory of life of those lost

To the cough, now and soon,

The wish to be elsewhere where everyone else is -

The rain, summer.

July 2, 2020

The grey light is fading:

Sodden day.

Today is Thursday


This is a lull before


I pretend instead

It’s going

To be a bit like

It was.

Even though I know



This lulling feeling


Than I’ve ever felt

Slows time.

Slows my mind, though I try


News scrolls, tempting change?

But no.

The new world is yet to

Be born.


Everyone I know slows

Brains fogged

In the apathy of


I heard yesterday


Dissolve, turned to mush


They become themselves.



What does it feel like?

The goo?

I’ve forgotten who I was

And am not

Yet, who I might be.


Not even daring to be hopeful


To be anything, some

New thing.

Making impossible plans;



Nothing yet, waiting

In the lull

Every part dissolved, cloying


It is not getting better

But changing.

Bigger than we thought;

More total.

This dissolving.

This waiting.

This lull.

One Year Later
April 3, 2021

I am very good at skipping now.

The rope turns fast.

A private bubble

Fixed in place.

I’m running, but with nowhere to go.


If I let go the handles

Drop the rope;

Open the door

What might happen?

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