Two Poems

By Abigail Elizabeth Ottley



A skeleton reclines on what were once his
well-padded, flesh-and-blood haunches.

His bony, right arm makes a cavalier gesture,
In his left hand sits a cup of sweet wine.

Jovial he lifts his hooked white claw —
though his company has long since departed.

Be cheerful, he urges. Eat well and drink freely
for only the foolish dance sober.

There will be time enough for contemplation
the morning after the dance.


And here is a second from a different shore.
Our cheerful fellow here hails from ancient Pompeii.

We meet him face on as we might have done then
checking in our coats in good time.

He seems to smile, a pitcher in both hands,
welcoming us to the party.

Are our lives and his vessels empty or full.
Possibly this question is the point.


And here lies a third. Death lazes on his side
Nonchalant, he interrupts his labours.

His slender ankles elegantly crossed,
how he radiates genteel ennui.

He has laid aside the tool of his business
commanding our attention.

Dance, he whisper. Dance if you will.
But still, above all else, know thyself.


Who should I thank for the days I have had
that carried me with quiet and steady purpose

through years I hardly saw fly by to this
one shining hour of repose?

I am sitting at my desk where I love to catch
the late sun that blesses my window

where an iridescent magpie, a noble crow
an eager, tail-twitching squirrel, all

come daily to perch on my blue fence
in bold expectation of nuts.

Who should I thank for a day like this, so
pleasant but as yet unremarkable?

And who for all the sunlit days when the air
smelled of sweet peas and new grass?

Who should I thank for those days that clouded over
when thunder grumbled in the distance?

Days in December when the trees stood bare
and the rain came down like knives?

And who should I thank for all the days I have had
when death over-looked me in an instant?

The days since I was shot in the head but
stubbornly, refused to die?

In my thirteenth summer there was rain that day
the kind that falls unseen and unheeded.

What power should I thank for all the days that came after
that have been all the days of this sweet life?

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley writes poetry and short fiction from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. She has a lifelong interest in history and an abiding love all all things quirky. 

Twitter: @AbigailElizabethOttley

The first poem came into being when I was browsing my notebook and found some notes I had taken on first reading this news story. It caught my interest as one of those quirky things I love so well and as part of my daily writing practice in late August and early September. I decided to develop the two or three lines I had originally scribbled. 

The second poem arose out of my belonging to a social media group of poets who try to write A Poem A Day in September. Prompts for writing are often offered, although they are by no means compulsory. In this case the prompt was simply Thanks. The poem details my musings and my daily experience over the ‘lockdown’ period during which writing has kept me happy and sane. As primary carer for my very elderly mother, I have had to be very, vey careful so I have not been able to venture out much further than a brief daily walk in our park. Sadly, my little flat has no garden but it does have a small and sunny yard space. Visiting squirrels, magpies and crows have become my dear friends and my link with the larger natural world.

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3 years ago

Enjoyed reading these poems Abigail. I’m locked down in Normandy and its hard to get started writing again – journals are so useful its easy to forget that when you feel dry with the writing process. Take care. Brigid X

Poetry and Covid-19 ARCHIVE (This website archives the over 1000 poems submitted by over 600 poets, and viewed by over 100,000 from over 125 countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020-June 2021). Thank you to all who took part in the Poetry and Covid project.

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