How, in a hundred words, to sing their praise?
The force who face the plague from pole to pole
Who make our broken dreams a future, whole
Who free the lives the virus locked away.
How can I count their millions? Mending hands
That twice and more will take us by the arm
And teach our lungs to breathe, our blood to calm
To know, and scorn the pathogen’s commands.
How, summarise the fifteen billion acts
That finally cut the curve. The work, the woe
The hope and sacrifice behind the facts;
Between “vaccine” and “we are free to go”.
Leave history lab and leader, clown and crown.
When we are saved, it happens town by town.
Ensure your mask is tight upon your face
Before you save: a kitten up a tree,
A city’s soul. The heroes go to waste
Who bear a heart too bold; who breathe too free.
Not for your racing heart, your rushing breath
Upon the precipice; but for the weary hands,
That knit, and nurse a fire at the hearth
And bear the weight of woe when it comes home.
Nor let your care relax when once alone:
With bleach and soda clean what crossed your mouth,
Stomach a kind and cleansing sustenance
And sleep with mask and costume close at hand.
The rampage runs, unchallengéd, uncowed.
Nothing but facelessness can save us now.
A star, on the tallest tower
Raised by the citizens’ pride
In the heart, and the arm, and the shoulder
That waits against need in the sky
A lab, in the lowest of basements
From the scum of the sewers to raise
A lance, for the bubble of courage;
A lens, for the gorgonous gaze.
A night when the sky is a-thunder.
Find, midst the mud and the rain
A face, with a breath and a pulse
To carry the glass and the glaive.
Climb, when the hour is darkest
Crouch at the zenith, alone.
Leap. Hope. Lash out; and die falling
Lost in the city of stone.
Window dark; upon the night-stand
A clock shows five a.m.
The sleeper rolling over.
A snore is heard again.
A whistle at the station
The pinkish glow of dawn.
A roar of train-set engines
The six-fifteen has gone.
A yawn. A stretch. Awoken
By sun-beams bright and broad
A swear-word from a bedroom.
Seven — and not aboard!
A scramble through the smartphone
For bus and car instead
And haste for 8 o’clock tonight,
Three hundred K’s ahead.
With apologies to Henry Lawson
A shot glass, half empty.
Emerald green liquid glints, in
A stopped gold watch.
Here were the towers tall, their burnished domes
Brazed mirror-bright against the wild horde.
Here we learned strength. Faced fire, trial, and woes,
Wrought wonders, and the grave was our reward.
But what a grave! A temple to the few,
With golden statues to each lost, last stand.
Our legends glorious, or tales true
Inscribed on every stone eternal stand.
Still, we its wardens take today our leave.
The war has shifted. Now strategic plans,
Too grand for blooded blades, demand we grieve.
Our fort, unconquered, falls to lesser hands.
So raze the glories! Snuff the burnished glow!
From gilded rubble nightmares, now we go.
Once there were daisies and butterflies.
Goldfish glowed in the stream.
Now there are soldiers,
Bases and rations,
Wheat, and nothing else green.
Peace is the talk of the table.
“Peace” is the word on the signs.
Councils of protest;
A march, a petition.
A child, left home: “Stay behind!”
Whispers of horror.
The months become years.
Still no sign.
A letter, unopened.
“One day, when you’re older.”
Sneaking out with a torch, to know why.
Once there were roses to dream of.
Trysts on the grass, by the stream.
Now, there are letters,
Lawyers, and archives.
Now there are things to achieve.
Knight in the image of knighthood,
Sword of the peaceful and poor.
Light to the lowly,
Shield of the suffering,
Life, laid down for the law.
Hero of tales at bed-time?
Faith, given flesh in the square!
Voice of our virtues,
Check to our passions,
Champion, in our despair.
Friend to our face — to the faceless.
Ally, above and below.
Grace of recovery,
Great, yet fated to go.
It seems the duty of a poet, now
To set in solemn phrases, words of weight:
Discourse on love — or oftener, on hate —
But always with a high and furrowed brow.
It seems the place for poets nowadays
Is either in the gallery, or pub:
The one, too fine for tainted mortal taste;
The other only fit for sweat and mud.
Our gift, too grave for light and lying tongues,
Too ancient for the fashions of today,
We’ll leave to more aesthetic lips and lungs:
Re-gift our hymns to souls that lift away.
Don’t think of those who fall! That sinful sound?
The fruit of labours profane, not profound.
The reed stands tall,
Smokes a last cigar, then
Bends before the flood.
A belated response to Monday’s Daily Prompt