BORN IN A PANDEMIC
a virus gathered everywhere
and we were unprepared
Bathed in ecstatic light
Your cherry bud mouth
unripe fruitin a Spanish hospital: two weeks early
my medical language / inadequate
your growth has stalled
fear hangs around my shoulders
like too big scrubs on an intern
hopelessly out of their depth
burden of knowledge no substitute
for a mother’s tongue
family branches: root, trunk, leaves
a worldwide net,
the doppler effect
a red shift, you kick
warning flashes in my periphery
(the ping-pong of WhatsApp,)
birth news travelling down the wires
position, consistency, length,
brother blanches at the word / unripe
sister fruit, what fruit am I?
father too, picks up on his daughter’s fruiting,
message of inducement
necessary softening, ripening
help to ‘get going,’
a virus gathers, somewhere else
we are unprepared
flashback : flashforwardneighbour’s dog crying / can’t bear it // pink foam earplugs : tiny / ineffective / stress relievers //
he wants to be let in
i squeeze you / sleeping giant / you grind your teeth // jaw strung
tight like catgut / horse hair / violin string : all hands on my growing belly //
he wants to be let in
phasing with the moon / crescent-shaped cushion
between my knees / third person in our bed // semi-lucid dreaming : something we used to call sleep
he wants to be let in
to wrestle awake at two strikes of Saint
Joan’s bell // this mourning clockwork brain : overworked dread / stuck on a loop //
he begs to be
death never far / in twilight hours : my death / your death
the baby //
rock / paper / scissorswomb ransacked
a mineral seam, i lick it,
seaside stick of rock
wrapped in a paper bag
held in two tiny, balled fists,
knowing i’ve already won
his name, a seam of pink and red,
flowering, my walls cave in
lower segment caesarean section [LSCS]// Wild-eyed / hospital crowd gather at bedside / Spanish and Valencian words let fly / to hold the
gaze of the only doctor / who speaks / this mother’s tongue / judge her face for clues / how bad this
might be / she examines me / carefully // You are crashing now / I know the drill / in seconds: PV
& IV, CTG / d e c e l e r a t e / accelerate / d e c e l e r a t e // deep anxiety //
/ Hormonal surge / adrenaline mix / cocktail of drugs / I shake uncontrollably / you stir / surface
from deep dive / oxygen returned / mask reapplied // Wild-eyed / hospital crowd continues to pour
/ more and more / strangers in scrubs / face of concern / needles in hands in places only tenderness
should be // Lying on my left / not to compress the cord / endangered pipeline / once so strong
/ now gone blue //
blue / blue / blue
/They talk of options / want you out / time compresses / to the length of a contraction // I tell you
hang on / squeeze the hand of your father/ he holds me / tight // Breathe in through nose / out
through mouth / build to a scream / no sound comes out //
/ Wild-eyed / hospital crowd returns / a trolley full of anaesthetic / banter / let it all hang loose
/ breasts pressed against a total stranger / man in surgical masks/ wearing cartoon hat / incongruous
/ mad rush / to first cut / precious time on the clock / surgical spirit / pure white light / giant
unblinking eye // Adrenaline carries me forwards / tipping / legs too heavy / gravity pulling me down
/ falling / on the cold hard table // I am draped / painted brown / a shield goes up // Do you feel
anything / they ask / what word / for this prickling sensation / before numbness // Yes / I feel everything
/ more than I ever thought / one women could / contain the pull and tug / maybe pain / no matter now //
/ Then lift and cry / the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard / healthy hearty relief / relief / relief a wave
// You are born aloft / behind green screen / new reality / wobbling in front of me // Placental pump
/ deep rooted connection / severed in seconds / rope-veined tree blue and black / I ask to see it
/ bright trail of blood / writing on theatre floor //
/ First kisses choked / lump of emotion / too high to name / swooning / laughing / crying as you
are borne away / all wrapped up no longer within // to your father in another room / where he waits
and waits and waits and waits / you are placed on his chest // Father-skin to son-skin / tears roll
down his face / bathing your bloody forehead // Wild-eyed / hospital crowd move on to the next
woman / the next child //
dead from the waist downspace blankets billow
cloud of oxytocin
i have no legs,
and a baby
his arms spread wide in benediction
hypnotised by the old man
in his purple eyes,
his fathomless cries
slavish devotion, majestic plural
bend the knee
grateful for safe arrival,
kid gloves donned
[ we don’t yet know about survival ]
a virus gathers, somewhere / near
we are unprepared
my body is no longer my ownit belongs to:
midwives / obstetricians / paediatricians / nurses / care assistants / cleaners / porters / extended family / total
strangers / the baby /
the whole world / and his wife / within hospital walls /
think they have the right to / cop a feel / engorged / tender breasts / grab a fistful / i am tempted to
bellow / a prize animal / on show /
as they pass by my open door /
free comment on inverted nipples / are flat nipples too / everyone has advice to give
squeezing and cajoling / unwieldy udders / into various shapes to fit / his open mouth /
‘like an hamburguesa or bocadillo’ / a wise woman says/
squeezing / rubbing / pinching / pummelling / a pound of flesh /
breakfast /brunch /lunch /dinner / mid-morning snack /midnight feast /comfort food for everyone /except me /
his tiny beak / a black hole / of hunger/
body shock or culture shock / jolt across too white skin / midwives laugh / good naturedly at my
pallor / giveaway sign of stranger status / before i can open mouth / to protest /
qualifications / irrelevant now / one door slams shut / doctor-pride dissolving in bloody puddle /
blue veins throb / visible / snaking / just under surface /
i feel more foreign / than ever / this country a host who welcomes all / with two kisses and a
squeeze / not / a shake of the hand / or / pat on the back between chums /
the importance of touch / human / social / inter-connection / a whole globe’s lack of estimation/
i cling to the little animal / he clings back / both of us try / to adjust
knowing we have to navigate / brand new worlds / together / mother fruit split wide-open/
my body /
no longer my own
startle reflexwhole body spasms
knock against your face
a bloody nose
Rooting, for the world [10 x 7]Tired
In the dying
Of the mob
We can all
For my milk
A midwife I have never met beforemassages my lumpen breasts
with sweet almond oil
until hot milk flows,
whilst wearing PPE. 
 Personal Protective Equipment worn by health professionals during a Pandemic
Ring me, like a half muffled bellOur flat in Alzira looks out over the spire of Sant Joan’s church, terracotta rooftops an undulating
terrain swallows race along above narrow streets, while sparrows admire themselves in reflective glass
on the small terrace we took for granted, before the virus arrived.
There is a ‘death knell’ or special pattern of bell tolling here; it gets under the skin. Posters appear in
the streets with name and picture of the deceased, a stylised black cross, age and occupation, what
family they leave behind; where and when you might pay your respects.
They bury their dead rapidly in Spain, on the same or following day but never more than two days
after death. Bodies are mostly laid out in an open casket, the Catholic tradition I am familiar with
through my work as a doctor, more than any personal religious upbringing or faith.
Death, it seems, is never far from my mind. It likes to invade my consciousness, fester: guilt and fear,
loss like a ritual. Alzira’s bell tolling can overwhelm. Now, in the weeks since our son’s safe arrival,
the silence of Sant Joan’s bells is even more disconcerting.
The mourning bells of Sant Joan Three tones, striking simplicity: high, mid-pitch,
then a low pealing call, over Alzira’s rooftops, they toll.
Stranger-death announced, a length of blue sky,
sound so far from home’s muffled line.
Sparrows peck imagined crumbs from bare feet. Wings
thrum, a snare, heads nodding with discordant chimes.
Reverb. Clanging cells align, replicate, discharge
their song: the mourning bells of Sant Joan.
 Sant Joan is Catalan for St. John (the Baptist) and pronounced ‘S-ant Jo-anne’ in English.
On the day they let the children out
it was a Sunday towards the end of April. Nature had taken over the intervening weeks:
swallows raced along narrow streets,
house martins nested under every eave
butterflies danced in pairs, on pavements,
decorating the path to the river
unabashed and blousy.
Bees hummed a new tune, saddle bags full
of pollen as they tumbled past
waving flower to flower.
Dazzle of dragonfly keeping pace with our pram
parakeets squabbled in giant palms
by the old Muslim wall.
Familiar rustle of silver birch leaves
shivered down the city’s spine,
two heron slipped past the repurposed
hawk-drawn circles overhead.
We couldn’t help but look directly at the sun,
similar to the crows,
worry melting in the uncorked springtime air.
Wood pigeons cooed to us like newborns,
From struts of the old iron bridge,
the opal Xúquer river gurgling below our feet.
Sugar canes creaked and cracked
birdsong so loud, it seemed nature
had been dialled up especially,
a white dove, branch in its beak
flapped overhead. We scuffed our feet,
the hour allotted, over too soon.
On the day they let the children out
peals of laughter joined in joyful riot
their animal selves unlocked, at last,
parents blinked, all startled deer:
a safe two meters from each other.
 The Spanish government relaxed lockdown on 26th April 2020 so that children were allowed outside for the first time, for one hour, accompanied by one parent.
Birth RiteClouds of butterfly
Crown the Myrtle Mountain
Blessings on his head
Eliot North is a writer, doctor and educator who currently lives in Valencian Country, Spain. She was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize for her poem yolk, by Black Bough Poetry.
Eliot won the EuroStemCell Imaginative Non-Fiction Poetry Competition in 2013 and was also commended for the National Poetry Competition 2014 with The Crab Man, which she made into a Filmpoem with artist and filmmaker Alastair Cook.
Her short story This Skin Doesn’t Fit Me Any More, was originally published in Structo Magazine and subsequently selected for the anthology Best British Short Stories 2017 by Salt Publishing.
She writes prose and poetry and her work has featured in: Firewords, Structo, Acumen, Black Bough Poetry, Dovecote, Re-side, The Broken Spine and Ink Sweat & Tears literary magazines. The latter publication also nominated her poem My Mother Visits The Dissection Room for The Forward Prize in 2017.
Eliot was selected for the Djerassi Resident Artist Programme: Scientific Delirium Madness, in 2018. She carved two poems into wood whilst she was a resident, which were installed on the Djerassi property, as well as writing essays and poems on the themes of medical science, nature, identity and creativity.
All texts and images by Eliot North (2020)