By Jean Atkin
In this sunnier, odder spring with louder
birdsong, sweeter lanes and tall
blue skies unstreaked by planes
the bicycle carries me with all
its old swiftness, answers the ask
of a leaned corner, flicks its jink around a grid.
For an hour in each slow day I’ve been
out cycling quiet roundabouts, freewheeling
down these potholed weeks of death.
I’ve been waving to more cyclists now
than cars. Though once, there was a bin lorry,
and I lapped it, felt my lungs at work.
Thursday, and a swallow skims a fence,
gauges precisely its distance from my wheels.
Ambulances pass. Key workers work and set
aside their fears. They labour through this spring’s
long hours, high rent, low pay – the poverty trap.
At eight o’clock, on our doorsteps, we’ll all clap.
Jean Atkin’s latest collection is ‘How Time is in Fields‘ (IDP, May 2019). Her poetry has featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ with Claire Balding, and recent work appears in The Rialto, The Moth, Lighthouse and Agenda. In 2019 she was Troubadour of the Hills for Ledbury Poetry Festival, and BBC National Poetry Day Poet for Shropshire. www.jeanatkin.com
I live in Shrewsbury, and wrote the poem during lockdown, in a strange state of alarm, anxiety, and awareness of my own relative good fortune – which turned steadily, as the Thursdays passed, to a real anger with our government for its hypocritical treatment of low-paid and low-status ‘key’ workers. As a poet in community and education I work(ed) regularly in care homes and schools, and I’ve been keeping in touch with people I know there who’ve been affected by PPE shortages, high levels of exposure to the virus and confused public messaging, kind people who have become exhausted and overwhelmed by this pandemic. Things need to change.