Absent the Weight of Love by Kate Armstrong


Poetry Kate Armstrong


I tried to write you a poem today; one that would say how the flat is cool and silent, how the white-painted walls and oak floor soothe me, how glad I am that we splurged on expensive furniture whose lines perfectly complement those of the window frames, the chair on the balcony, and the grill of the air conditioning unit. I wanted it to tell you that I still have your books ordered as you left them, by publisher, though that means I can never find the ones I want. I have clothes of yours folded in your bedside cabinet, next to your red briefcase filled with letters from your friends.   

I want to say this in a poem that lets you know as well that in the first days of lockdown as I ran through the streets, my brain had learned what two metres was but did not register the distance applied only to people, and so I gave bollards a wide berth, and trees, and a dog. ‘You muppet,’ you’d say in my poem, and then, shyly, after by a many-miracled allowance you’d have been out and run yourself, you’d have acknowledged your brain was doing the same

It’s hard to buy rice, my poem like a late-night phone call would say, though you can now get pasta if you don’t mind what shape. Paracetamol, tricky; ibuprofen, less. The sky is vast, I want to tell you, and the sun, day by day, is setting further in the west. Your friends call me, as though they have taken a vow to protect what you have left behind. Their voices enter the stillness of my day.

It would have no formal structure, my poem to you. In these days the edges are softened. The streets have lost the rush hour that signalled the workday; every day is a languorous Sunday now. There are ambulances but I don’t always hear them; with the roads empty, their sirens are often switched off.  

More things, in a rush, if I were granted a poet’s skill: I’m calling your mother (we’re getting on well); I’m writing every day that I can; I’m using that yoga mat that was always rolled up; I’m doing my best – as you would have wanted – to keep my spirits up. When I wake in the morning, before I turn to the news, I think of you, and I hear your voice: ‘No phones in bed,’ you say, and I ignore you as I always did. 

May my poem have numbers? Infection rates, deaths? Tallies of hours worked and hours when instead I gaze outside looking for the planes which rarely now rumble overhead. Unread emails, perhaps. Is it poetry, one that arrived today? It floated silently into my isolated world, the post-mortem report listing how they measured you out, the weight of each of your organs. Heart, lung, lung. 

Four hundred and twenty grams the weight of your heart. Two hundred and forty-four the days you’ve been gone. Two million infections. One hundred and seventeen thousand deaths. 

Four hundred and twenty grams the weight of your heart. Is that a lot for a heart to weigh?

I tried, my love, today to write you a poem. If I could this is what it would say.


This poem was written in response to our Stories in the Time of Covid19 project.


Kate is an MFA student at Birkbeck and writer of The Storyteller (2016), a novel about the isolation of depression. She is currently writing about mountains.

6 May 2020