Michael Lawrence : 2020 POEMS                       Email: wordybug@me.com    

Poems written throughout this turbulent year

Once upon a time a fair number of poems of mine were published, in poetry magazines, newspapers and so on, but I last wrote a poem in 2001. Suddenly, however, all these years later, I find myself once again writing poems with some enthusiasm. While these are written for no one but myself, I thought I would show some of them on this page, adding to them every so often. For older poems see my collection Nudes & Victims.


Sitting here, head overheated

in spite of the NY cap, dazzled

by sun. It's rare for me to sit out,

away from the things I do indoors,

at desk, easel, worktable. I screw

my eyes up, pain behind them,

bright, bright, bright, but too idle

to move – soporific, this garden

lazing – until at last it can be

resisted no longer, and I get up,

out of this rarely-used garden chair,

go to the car for sunglasses, put

them on with some relief, then sit

again, and… the sun goes in.



It's hard to say what nudges the mind

this way or that. I wasn't thinking

anything much, just sitting, drifting

my life away, and within this drift I stood

once again in the ruins of ancient Carthage,

apart from the others on the tourist bus,

amid old stone blocks and history,

hearing the howl and thud and screech

of battle, destruction, the death of many,

both sexes, all ages, very brief, all of it,

but distinct enough, vivid enough,

to stir me to write this, withdrawing

from those old ruins to today's.



They raved about it, the young

Americans on tall ladders, picking

apples, placing them gently in

cloth baskets around their necks.

'You gotta read it, man, it's like

nothing else, ever.' In Tel Aviv

one day Penny from I forget where

bought the trilogy in paperback,

and gave it to me. 'You'll love this,'

she said. I kept those books for years,

but never got into them, not even

the first volume. I was put off by

the font used, and the tiny size of it,

cramped, and running too close to the

inner fold. There was no breathing

room on the pages to ease yourself into

the story, admire the flow of the words,

connect with the characters. And I've

never tried since, even with other

printings, better quality productions.

If the loss is mine I can live with that.

However popular they are, however

famous, they're only books after all.

Just shelf litter, like my own.



Directly out from the jetty,

between ten o'clock and two,

you'll find clear ground,

or so it says here. My memory

is less specific. For me,

from this sitpoint, the grey

stone jetty is all windy nights

and dark surrounds, a world enclosed,

wind-buffeted, rain-specked.

The small fishing craft, well secured

on the stoniest part of the beach,

the sky, cloud-rich, sneaking sly hints

of other worlds than ours as the wind

ruffled coats and hair, and hands

were clasped, then unclasped,

our selected enclosure tightening

with a wince, a laugh, a shiver.

Too soon by far to think ahead,

imagine, dread. Too early to not-plan,

too out-of-phase for negative

speculation. All seemed possible

yet nothing was foreseen. The cruelties

of one, which would force undreamt-of

transitions, in the course of which,

inside of which, anything might happen,

was not so much as hinted at.

The wind, the night wind, whipping

around us, cutting into us, jostled

the beach-boats but gave nothing away;

nothing beyond unease interspersed

with the bright pin-holes of other worlds,

unimagined worlds, on the jetty.


23rd April 2020


At the tail end of the day, I feel

mildly satisfied. Nothing much

has been done, just little things

in this room where 'stuff' is made,

mostly for no one's eyes or ears

but mine. I repaired an old painting

on hardboard, battered by years

and carelessness; I made a pencil

drawing in outline, of two women,

loosely based on someone else's

painting from ninety years ago;

and I wrote two poems to end the day,

three with this, to end the night. Small

things, no great accomplishments,

but conjurings nevertheless,

where there'd been nothing before.



A book falls to the floor.

What book? He looks.

No book. But the sound of it

falling was there. He heard it,

a single sound of paper

between covers.

Like an invisible book,

it all falls, somewhere

in the back of consciousness,

or conscience. He's riddled

with unspoken guilt for that

thing he did, which contained

so many sub-things

simultaneously left undone;

that yesteryear which,

the news and calendars

inform him, was an unbelievable

time ago for one who lives

in all his times concurrently.

There might be another who

relives that year from the other

side of things, the sad reversal

of events – but surely not.

Surely all's well there after such

a while, outside the head, where

memory has no place to hide

worth speaking of, where

today's kettle must be boiled,

today's meals consumed,

today's air breathed, where

falling books are easily identified,

and picked up, put back

on the pile, or opened, for one

to continue reading lines written

by someone else, in real time,

whatever that is.



The view is less sharp than it ought to be.

My right eye sees nothing that isn't blurred

– laser treatment required, I'm told – but we're

in Lockdown: a situation, worldwide dilemma,

this year which, with its perfect configuration

(an echo of itself), will be one for future history

books, in schools, exams, in memory.

The left eye, too, abandoned to its solitary

devices, isn't up to the job any more. A new lens

would be handy for that one. But there's no lens

to be had right now, no optician willing to oblige,

even if I could get to him or her, this month

or next, or for many more, I think.

Still, even with the blur and the not-quite-right,

the pink blossom at my workroom window glows

and shifts and lilts in April sunlight, and silence,

all the way out here, far from worlds of people,

infected or not, doomed or not. People and other

moving things, other light and colour.


28th May 2020


To pinpoint the time in which this is written,

there are two main themes occupying

the commentators of the day. One concerns

the worldwide pandemic from which few are

entirely immune, the other the bizarre antics

and garblings of the self-centred thin-skinned

bully who struts around under the banner

'Most Powerful Man in the World'.

But as these are being covered internationally

by countless pens and voices, I'll just say

that the sky is blue today, and cloudless,

and birds are in the trees, along with new

leaves, and I have taken his breakfast

to the nameless cat that lives in the outhouse

that until two years ago was the make-do

studio in which I made abstract paintings.

But Nameless isn't there. Not there and could

be anywhere. He'll probably wander back later,

though, to munch his kibbles and sip from

his bowl of fresh water before strolling off again.

There. That's better. Little things in small days.

So much sweeter than adding further wordage

to bigger, more worrying subjects.


4th June 2020


A week on from the last pinpointing

the focus of the world has shifted.

The pandemic is still rife, people are

still dying in the hundreds, thousands,

but ten days ago, in Minneapolis,

a thug in police uniform knelt on a

man's neck until he ceased breathing,

and protestors took to the Minneapolis

streets, then to the streets of other cities,

and the violence began, and the looting,

and the clown in the oval office, all stern

and 'I'm in charge', issued threats

of retribution, and shots were fired,

tear gas canisters lobbed, and the news

channels refocused, and people who'd

socially distanced themselves rubbed

shoulders with strangers, breathed on

them, inhaled as if there'd been no virus,

no pandemic. And here we are today.



There's nothing much here now.

There's very little to see.

Where she once span and whirled around,

people sit to chat and eat. In this plain space

you and I laugh and joke and reminisce,

While she who span and whirled around

Today spins underground.



A word sneaks in,

then a meaning.

The meaning expands,

fluffing up speculation,

which in turn points the way

to a question that triggers

a memory which fills out

to become a scenario,

a full-bloodied act, cruel act,

and all is laid bare where

before it was beyond

the present realm, and

the one to whom the word

presented itself falls to his

metaphorical knees,

covering his head.



I once sat beside a famous poet

At a dinner. His smiling French

Girlfriend sat opposite him.

We shared an editor, he and I,

Her only two authors, her Chosen Ones,

But he hadn't heard of me.

We chatted casually, the two of us,

Until I made a big mistake.

'I write poems too,' I said.

'Oh,' said he, and turned away.

He must have heard that line

So many times from strangers.


10th March 2020


Early March, the farm next door.

We watched a ewe drop her firstborn

on the ground. The little one lay confused,

eyes closed, as if wondering what

was going on. The mother began to lick

her infant, with her brisk black tongue,

all over, every part. Little one's eyes

began to open. In a minute, still licked,

he tried to stand, and failed. He tried

again, and again, leg by leg, falling

each time, until he was up at last,

if shaky, still being licked all over, bullied

a little. Then he was taken away, roughly

stretched, this way, that, while a symbol

was painted on him. Mark of ownership.

There were many pens, many sheep, new

lambs. In one, a ewe without a lamb made

a racket that sounded much like grief –

'Hers was stillborn; she'll be culled now.'

Culled. Killed. For failing to deliver a life.

I could no longer enjoy the new lambs

finding their feet, stretching their legs,

bleating. Could only hear the heartfelt wails

of the unsuccessful ewe. The one doomed

for not delivering. By the following day

she was no more. Only the memory remains.

And these lines, which feel so empty.