Judy O’Kane, two poems.

COVID-19, Poetry

My work, both prose and poetry, is interested in how we occupy space. This poem looks back to the early days of the pandemic in the run up to Easter. I was fascinated by how we delineated space. The simple act of walking seemed to become formalised, even performative as we traversed the park, giving way to each other. The pond became a focal point as ducklings appeared, then began to find their balance. I was very touched by the sense of a common purpose. As the population was furloughed or working from home, young family groups were together at all times of the day, every day. There was a certain fluency in their movement. Very young children were learning to cycle. I spoke to a college friend as his twins hurtled past us on bicycles with training wheels. His older daughter hadn’t learned until she was years older. I felt I’d failed as a father, he said. As the whole business continues to become more complicated and we all hurtle towards Christmas, I’m not sure what images will offer themselves.

Herbert Park
 can’t keep count,
 they keep spreading: 
 a dozen odd ducklings, not 
 much bigger than the Creme Eggs 
 we opened on Easter mornings. Bright 
 yellow and black, wobbling across the water,
 then herded in, both parents warding away all-
 comers, shielding them from herons, steering them 
 out of harm’s way. They’re still finding their balance: 
 feet tucked in, no ducking under, no diving upside 
 down. Across the country our parents are herded 
 indoors, shielded from picked-over supermarket 
 produce, asked to stay out of harm’s way. 
 We have carried home no eggs this year. 
 We’re warding away all-comers, 
 steering ahead towards 
The Code 
 We circle the park – prison yard exercise – Garda 
 patrol cars in pursuit as we stride out – watching 
 our step in this complicated new choreography –
 confused toddlers told – give the lady her space –
 and we all join in the game – Musical Statues – 
 drawing to a halt at invisible tramlines 
 to let others pass. Runners stand still – suspended 
 in a stretch. We walk on – avoiding each other – 
 even the dogs look away – even the herons stand separate 
 and apart – the female on the paving, her mate immobile 
 across the pond. When the light falls our applause spills out 
 over balconies – over the pond and across the park. When silence falls 
 we go inside to speak to screens –  to tap out messages in Morse code – 
 Can I drop anything to your parents? Do you have everything you need?

Judy O’Kane is a poet and prose writer. She won the Charles Causley Poetry Prize, the National Memory Day Prize, the Irish Post Prize and the Listowel Writers Week Original Poem Prize. Her work is published in The North, Landfall, The World of Fine Wine and the Manchester
Judy has read at The Irish Writers in London Summer School, Pinot Celebration, New Zealand, Borough Market, The House of Lords, The Red Line Festival, Dublin, and East Cork Slow Food. Her work was displayed at Guernsey Poetry on the Move Festival. Judy holds a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of East Anglia. Thirst, her non-fiction work-in-progress, was shortlisted for the Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Award. The judges described the work as ‘a quest in many registers, and a celebration of the mystery of wine’.

Twitter: @judeokane