Night Singing in a Time of Plague

by Ruth Padel

Can’t you sleep either? After a dark year,
many old friends gone, I thought I heard you sing
outside the window
inches from my ear. Who are you singing for
this time of night? Did I dream you?

Even if I did, I’m with you, robin,
the only ones awake at half-past two
under a full December moon
in city air the colour of spat-out liquorice.
Again. You really are here. One chirrup,

then a song I’ve heard in better times
and other countries. An olive grove on Crete –
where I’d love, love to be right now –
and a Welsh snowstorm,
challenging the gods of loneliness and ice.

Take me to a new world. No. You’ve turned
the music off. A light comes on
between those green-slit stairwells
in flats across the road. Someone else can’t sleep.
But you, I bet, are perky as a Christmas card

among thorns of that shaggy creeper.
Another trill, rich as day. Now a carol,
a wild cantata. What do you know
of months penned in, not seeing anyone,
a hundred thousand people

dead, this country alone? Or the larger thing,
poisoned seas, a dying planet
whole pristine forests burned? Your little tribe
has learned to stay up close
and use what humans bring. Come morning

you’ll be on the sill, waiting for crumbs.
We’re in this together,
this Stations of the Cross situation,
and you are the Advent hymn. Bonkers but brilliant.
Let sleep come softly. Let the heart return.