Poetry can be the bridge that connects us during these difficult times by Mary Jean Chan

In the days after the arrival of Covid-19 in the UK, I watched in horror as government policy failed to mobilise the public and enact drastic social distancing measures comparable to those widely used in other countries. I tried to write but found myself unable to express something that might be of use. As a poet, I could not muster the right words. On 13 March, I realised that a prose poem of mine titled “Safe Space II” from my debut collection Flèche was being shared widely on Twitter. It begins:

Wash your hands. Rub soap into foam into lost hands. Focus on the running tap, the way your hands momentarily disappear and you feel safe again. The bathroom is a place you can always rely on, in whatever country […]

I realised – for the first time – that this was a Sars poem, which had not occurred to me when I wrote it in 2017. I was 12 years old when the Sars epidemic hit Hong Kong, my home city, in 2003. School meant mandatory “medical kits” that our teachers inspected every day at the start of class: two face masks, a bottle of hand sanitiser, a packet of travel tissues.

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