One Year On: The First Ten Thousand Dead

Little did I realise, when I wrote this poem and posted it here twelve months ago, that we’d still be in the same position in 2021.

A second summer of COVID and a third – fourth? – wave rolling towards us over the sea of our school-age children. Not the best look, UK, not the best look at all.

Friends visited, all of us double vaccinated, and while it was a little weird to start with – (“will we still like them?”) – all went well in the end. Over thirty years of friendship will do that.

The world of climate emergencies has the potential to brick us up in pandemic isolation more frequently. Best we get prepared, by accepting that for now this world is what we have, and its rules have changed.

Generation X have already adapted – when I first went to university in the mid-80s, the sparse “Welcome Pack” had one of those tombstone AIDS leaflets (“don’t have sex or you’ll die”). By the early 1990s the welcome pack had expanded with freebies to include a Pot Noodle and a packet of condoms.

More so than last summer, I do wonder at the people who insist that The Youth of Today are somehow missing out. Yes, they are not going to enjoy the same experiences of those of us who matured before COVID arrived. But they are going to make their own experiences.

They are building a new world, and good luck to ’em. I hope to live in it for some years yet.

Last year I posted this as an image. This year, I’m posting it as text, to make it more accessible. I suppose the time is ripe to compose a follow-up although I’m risking this becoming an annual occurrence.


The first ten thousand dead
Did not impress our leaders, did not sway
Them from their path.
Intent on what?
You ask.
Ten thousand dead –
Mere weeks ago,
Statistics that seemed fanciful
– Outrageous and obscene –
Now look like panacea.
Yet no contrition, nor humility,
For any of the first ten thousand dead.
What makes us think the numbers matter now?

Half-hearted lockdown lifted.
Go out! Go out! And make yourselves resist!
The crowds, the happy crowds,
Crammed onto beaches or in public parks
Breathe deep the summer air,
And with it, life.
Small life, a virus; almost without trace
And yet we notice, with a gasp
Where once was song and laughter.
Indoors, survivors seizing hard-won air,
And months of pain
What goodness, now, will come of this?

The longest day – Midsummer – fast upon us
And the nights start drawing in.
All through the summer months
Those dwindling daylight hours will mask
So many sacrifices,
The goodwill of our healthcare workers, spent
As is their strength; resilience
Does not last for ever
Without rest. Applause is not enough.

The first ten thousand dead now seem like martyrs;
The next ten thousand dead, unjust mistakes.
Now forty thousand – forty thousand! – missing, stolen, lost.
A second wave is coming
Closer, every indrawn breath
Daring admission.
Have a heart, and pity us.
How many hundred thousand will it take?

(c) Lee McAulay, June 2020

And now, this week’s links:

One of the many variants of influenza appears to have become extinct – StatNews

“I’m not scared to re-enter society, I’m just not sure I want to” – The Atlantic

And a short piece of electronic music – Nils by Bouvetøya (on SoundCloud)

Published in: on June 6, 2021 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. […] Remember the death tolls rolling out across the days, thousand upon thousand? […]

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