The Friday Poem on 10/09/21
We chose Jane Routh’s poem ‘The February Museum: recent acquisitions’ because its collection of exhibits so neatly and poignantly illustrates one calendar month — February 2021 — of life under lockdown during the pandemic in the UK. Each found item has a story to tell, and all speak of Routh’s deep concern for the natural world. We love her clear eye and detailed observation. We said we wouldn’t print a poem longer than 50 lines unless it was a banger, and this one certainly is.
The February Museum: recent acquisitions
Fraxinus excelsior 18” square-cut deadwood log
with egg galleries of Hylesinus varius
Retrieved from the log pile, a long block
inscribed with life cycles: straight tunnels
across the grain where beetles deposited a row of eggs;
along the grain, smaller tunnels widen
where growing grubs ate their way out into the air.
Cleaned of frass with a toothpick, pale lines as if drawn
on a dark ground – the way you’d draw Cuthbert’s
ivory comb preserved with him in his coffin,
fine teeth running out on one side, even more on the other.
Sound recording made on the south side of the Little Wood
of 20mph north-easterly wind gusting 30
You can hear gusts like a train roaring up and through
but as if you’re on a bridge above a mainline station
they don’t affect you here, in the lee of the wood
which shelters downwind for over twenty times
its own height without eddies or turbulence
and even upwind slows things down a notch or two
– though it’s not much of a wood, only a long strip
three or four trees deep, bordered by hollies
hedging what was once a drove road to the moor.
Handful of short hairs cut during a pandemic
from the head of a 78 year old male
Very fine, very plentiful and dark brown.
Not even the odd silvery one. No wonder
the girl in the chemist’s checked he was over sixty.
A amateur cut takes four times as long as a barber
– more, if you count next day’s extra snips at tufts
that were missed, or time picking up hair
all over the kitchen floor and stray bits up sleeves,
in a pocket, stuck to a jumper – all tossed out
for birds to line nests with, blown back by the wind.
Silver foil top from glass milk bottle
stamped wording indistinct except for 16
If you know what you’re looking for,
you can just make out the PAST
of pasteurised. The bottle it sealed was plain
though you never know what you’ll find next
on the doorstep: an embossed Cotteslaw Dairies,
a painted Lanchester and a full-colour Batman
whose blue’s worn away – as is the blue of the union flag
on another – all here after knocking about
in three dozen fridges before this.
Paterson 500ml perspex darkroom measuring cylinder
graduated in millilitres, ‘English’ and US fluid ounces
Not much used (slightly on the small side
for the volume of chemicals needed at 20°C
mixed with equal parts water to develop large prints)
still light in the hand and excessively accurate
since now – instead of metol and carbonates and bromide –
it measures changes to life and what there is to be measured,
the darkroom become storeroom and the liquids
that need mixing light (not olive) oil with soya milk,
sometimes tepid water foaming with crumbled yeast.
Annotated February 2021 calendar page
with photograph over Luskentyre towards the Harris hills
Many empty squares.
Food deliveries on the same day each week.
Two birthdays and six online “events”.
A bright and windy day over the white shell sands,
hills dark in the distance and out west
turquoise waves spattered with white crests –
it always was windy, always cold
and the shining expanse of wet sand empty
of any sign of what we have done to the world.