Róisín Ingle on an eloquent pandemic poem: ‘What day is it? Who gives a f**k’

‘I wrote my first poem tonight,’ Jan said. ‘I hope you don’t mind me sharing it’

‘All I want is a f**kin hug. A chat, close up, with a massive mug’

‘All I want is a f**kin hug. A chat, close up, with a massive mug’

 

The first thing to say is that I don’t know the poet Jan Brierton very well, although I got a fairly decent impression of her in St Anne’s Park in Dublin on one of those in-between days after Christmas, before the new year.

We were out for a walk with our daughters, and we bumped into Jan as she was taking her son to a football session. She was carrying a blanket, a fold-up chair, a flask of hot tea and a variety of snacks. If she had to spend a couple of hours on the edge of a muddy field pretending to watch football, she might as well be comfortable, was her reasoning. She had a book with her too. And Now for the Good News, by Ruby Wax. She needed something, she said, to keep her spirits up as we headed inexorably into our third lockdown.

Our daughters are in Jan’s daughter Willow’s class in their new school. She asked if our girls wanted to come with her for a bit, so that myself and my partner could have some time to ourselves.

Before Jan could change her mind about the impromptu childminding, we walked away as quickly as we thought would be appropriate in the opposite direction

If I could have bitten her hand off I would, but this was our first proper encounter outside of a few playdate-related WhatsApp messages. Instead I said: “Well, okay, if you’re sure,” trying to disguise the rising excitement I felt at the temporary release she was offering.

Jan – a stylish woman, I couldn’t help noticing even as she lugged all her cargo – pointed an elegant finger down the long path through the park. “When you are finished, the pitch is down there, near the fallen tree that looks like a lizard.”

I should have known then she was a poet, but, in fairness, standing there in the Raheny drizzle, Jan didn’t even know yet herself. Before she could change her mind about the impromptu childminding, we walked away as quickly as we thought would be appropriate in the opposite direction.

That very different Christmas had been fine, enjoyable even, but it was also fine, enjoyable even, to link arms and walk away from the children and stroll in silence past tall trees, dodging puddles.

After a while, we decided we better go looking for the lizard tree. We asked a few people, assuming that it must be a well-known park landmark, but we got puzzled looks for our trouble. Eventually, I gave up and left my partner to figure it out and to phone Jan to find out where she was with the 1 per cent he had left on his mobile-phone battery.

I walked past the playground and on towards the socially distanced queue at the Red Stables for coffee. Then I sat down on a circular bench under a tree and spoke to an older woman about her Christmas dinner. It had been just her and her son, but she still did the full works. She lived alone, she said, but she was not lonely; her long walks through St Anne’s or by the sea kept her connected to the lives of people carrying on all around her.

The children appeared in the distance, collected hot chocolates and we said goodbye to the woman as she continued on her walk.

I didn’t hear from Jan again until last week. It was way past my bedtime. I was sitting with the dregs of a glass of red wine and watching just one more episode of something on my laptop.

I’ve had to asterisk each carefully placed expletive, to protect our more delicate readers. Although I suspect we’re all swearing a bit more than we used to, especially our more delicate readers

“I wrote my first poem tonight,” Jan said in her message. “I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with you… A bit of a wally thing to do. But I trust your judgment.”

The poem was untitled. The poem was a masterpiece. I offer it here with the suggestion that you read it out loud, enunciating each carefully placed expletive – which, unfortunately, I’ve had to asterisk, to protect our more delicate readers.

Although I suspect we’re all swearing a bit more than we used to, especially our more delicate readers.

Here is Jan Brierton’s poem.

What day is it?
Who gives a f**k
I teach, I clean, I play, I cook.

This lockdown is a f**kin pain.
Oh look, f**k sake
Here comes the rain.

Another day, another park.
I’m wishing it would just get dark.

Please, no more f**kin walks,
Or yoga, baking or art with chalk.
No meditation, f**k cold sea dips.
And f**k your healthy eating tips.

All I want is a f**kin hug.
A chat, close up, with a massive mug
of tea, none of this take-out crap.
I’d touch your hand, you’d slap my back.
We’d laugh and talk.
I’d share my cake.
We’d talk about who we think is fake.
We might say “f**k it, stay out late”
We’d grab an early bird at 8.
We’d talk and chat and talk some more.
We’d link as we walk out the door.
On the bus I’d text to say:
“My friend, I’ve had a lovely day”

But F**K
What day is it?
I don’t have a f**k
I teach, I clean, I play, I cook...

I put the poem on Twitter and it went viral, as Jan’s pandemic frustration, her eloquent cursing, her longing for the simple pleasures we took for granted before everything turned upside down, resonated with people all over the world.

Jan Brierton is a poet and she didn’t know it. She knows it now. And so do we.

roisin@irishtimes.com