Captain’s Log 16/03/20 09:29
I’m on a train, heading from Newcastle to London, on my way to deliver the last 4 poems I will ever write as a Door-to-Door Poet. The plan is to check into a (relatively) cheap hotel in Kensington, visit Mahika’s house nearby, then get up the next day and go to Jaywick, where I’ll drop off the other 3.
It’s the end of a journey that started in February 2019; it feels like it’s finishing at the last possible moment. Italy and Spain are now in lockdown, there’s rumours of it happening here by the end of the week.
I usually read the poems out on the doorstep, but I’m not sure how people will feel about that anymore. I’ve text Mahika to remind her I’m coming, asked her to get in touch if there’s any problems. I’ve had no reply.
I get off at Kings Cross, it’s quieter than usual. The tube to Notting Hill is practically empty- all the other passengers have face masks on.
At the hotel, the receptionist looks nervous. She’s talking a lot about the complimentary breakfast.
“It’ll still be on, we think. We’re not really sure anymore.”
I head up to my room, put some bags down and check my phone. I’ve got a text from Mahika.
“Could you put it through the postbox please?”
Then I look at the news. I realise that, somewhere between Kings Cross and Kensington, I ran out of time.
Boris Johnson just gave a speech, he’s telling people to stay at home, to only travel for essential items or unavoidable work. Restaurants and bars will stay open, but we’re advised not to visit them. The reporters keep using the word ‘unprecedented’.
The distance between this room and my house feels galactic now- a swarming mass of people and buildings, filled with unknowable terrors. I make a coffee, try to sit down, end up pacing round the tiny patch of carpet by the bed.
What the hell am I supposed to do? Failure seems unthinkable, I’ve come too far. On the one hand, from a legal point of view, the trip is work- it’s work I can’t do from home. On the other, could you say delivering a poem to someone’s doorstep is ‘essential’? I’m not exactly performing CPR, am I?
I take a deep breath, try to think it out. I’m here now, there’s nothing I can do to change that. I have no kitchen, or food, so I’m going to have to leave the hotel at some point. Surely, there can’t be much harm in posting the first poem, can there?
I walk to Palace Gardens Terrace. When I met Mahika here, she asked for something she could read out to her children. I noticed she lives a stone’s throw from the Natural History Museum so, in the end, I wrote one about that.
I stick it through the letterbox, wondering what she’ll think of it, wondering if the paper itself might feel kind of threatening.
A few hours later, I visit an empty Portobello Road, still unsure about tomorrow. I buy a burger from a deserted takeaway. It feels like the start of the apocalypse.
A Word with the Whale
Have you ever been inside the Natural History Museum?
Lucy went on a trip with school, it was stranger than a dream.
She stepped into that great hall and could not believe her eyes
when she saw the blue whale skeleton that floated in the sky.
It was bigger than she’d pictured it, a truly massive scale,
from the girder of its jawbone to the tree trunk of its tail;
its belly like a block of flats that filled her heart with awe-
she wondered how they got it in, it was bigger than the door.
She shouted “Hello”, who knows why,
she didn’t think it would reply,
to her surprise the creature moved its head.
It looked around the open space
and then directly at her face.
It answered her, and this is what it said:
“I am a whale, a whale am I. It’s clear, no one would disagree,
I am the largest creature that has lived throughout all history.
I’ve swam down to the deepest depths to suck krill from the ocean floor,
I’ve crossed the planet countless times, I’ve glimpsed each distant shore.”
“But then the humans came with boats and spears on the attack,
they took away my family, they turned my waters black,
and now I stand a monument to all beneath these rafters,
to show you how much could be lost if we are not looked after.”
Then, at that moment, Lucy felt her teacher tap her shoulder,
she’d wandered off, two hours had passed, the trip was nearly over!
How could time have slipped away? She really didn’t know.
She waved goodbye to her new friend, then turned and headed home.