David Perman

Ash Wednesday 2020

How appropriate now that
they’ve cancelled Carnival in Barcelona, Cadiz,
proscribed the public kiss in Paris,
vetoes the masked melee of Venice
though most people are wearing masks of course ‒
because we cannot hope to party again,
because we cannot hope . . .

Remember you are dust and to dust
you shall return. But, Father, I want real ash,
not dust or an incinerated last year’s cross,
and not just on my forehead,
but ash on my face and body.
Lord, not only my feet, said Peter . . .
and got a dusty answer.

But real ash is reserved for firefighter
in Victoria. New South Wales, snatching
and clutching scarred koalas from the flames ‒
scared and scarred little bears.
Ash reserved for those who fared through
fire, fearless among the flames, not sitting
under a juniper tree in the cool of the day.

It’s no longer an annual midweek rite,
but the everyday fête ‒ and fate ‒
of mankind, animal kind, every kind
of God’s creatures ‒if there is a God
who cares for small bears.
A rite no longer celebrated by
expatriate laureates, old men.

The young march in thousands to hear
an improbable small teen from Sweden
who eschews air travel, speaks truth to power,
her voice heard in schools of every nation.
The coronavirus is not her friend,
but like her it has shaken the foundations:
Ash Wednesday can never be the same again.

David Perman spent most of his working life as a journalist, first in newspapers then in the BBC World Service. He interviewed Mrs.Thatcher and the Ayatollah
Khomeini and, more congenially, finished up as the BBC’s head of Greek broadcasting. He has written two biographies of poets. Scott of Amwell: Dr Johnson’s Quaker Critic came out of research into the eighteenth-century poet and social reformer, John Scott, whose shell grotto was restored in 1990 with David as project manager. More recently he has written the life of a German-born refugee from Hitler –Stranger in a borrowed land: the life and writing of Lotte Moos. Publication of his own poetry began in 1997 with The Buildings(dealing mainly with his Islington childhood) from Acumen Publications
and branched out into A Wasp on the Stair, from Rockingham (2004). His latest publication is Scrap-iron Words from Acumen Publications (2014).