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A poem in the pandemic, by Kevin Higgins

after Brian Patten 

Now all the old gods have died

or are on life support in

the prison infirmary psychiatric wing

we have a new name for the absolute:

AstraZeneca. Even those who get 

emotional at dinner parties

about the state of the planet

know there’s no talking back

to AstraZeneca, the one who now decides

who gets to go outside

and who must remain in the cupboard.

Old women, whose husbands

haven’t come back out of 

the bedside locker since this time last year,

get down on their bony knees

and ask AstraZeneca to please

keep them in there for good.

The Minister for Exams clasps

her sad hands together and pleads

that AstraZeneca intercede 

before she’s pushed 

through the streets by students

in a shopping trolley 

wearing a dunce’s hat.

Diplomats, Popes, and 

Patriarchs of Constantinople 

issue joint communiqués begging

AstraZeneca to save us 

from the Russians.

Like most gods, AstraZeneca 

has a customer help-line 

it never answers.

But we dial it in any case,

our nerve endings electric

at the thought of what

we’re at the mercy of.

As the next war starts

every side claims this

new deity belongs to them,

and the streets ring

with the sound of AstraZeneca laughing.