lock-down back-garden: a coronavirus journal

August 1, 2020


Alec Finlay has had Covid19 since just before the UK went into full lockdown in March 2020. Finlay is part of a high-risk group and the virus has had a significant impact on his body, leaving him unable to walk more than 150m. During lockdown, no matter how ill, he wrote one short poem every morning. The following are some of the entries from his daily poem-journal, presented in chronological order. 





lock-down back-garden: a coronavirus journal

16.III.20 – 31.VII.20




a dove on the door

of those about to die




the sag in the quilt

must be my knees fault




will you allow me

in your bubble?


are our two house-

holds one home?




I say I feel

like an old Polo



for a Trabant

he says Trabants

run for ever




you can meet one

parent in the morning


one in the afternoon

and both apart




I understand you

very well, better than you

understand yourself




now it’s kid’s rules:

everyone (except some)




nicola’s manifesto


if your life

is normal

something’s wrong




the odd walker on the path

with an aura of danger




I’ll call it my grianan

this futon I drag


around the room

in a fold of sunbeams


grianan, Scottish Gaelic: a topographical term meaning sunny spot




she says every



carries col-

lateral beauty 




i.m. John Conway


in his game

each cell with

one or even

no neighbours

died of loneliness




take your water

with a pinch

of ascorbic


do as the tea

says: breathe





at the zoo the talk is of

feeding animals to animals




he says he hopes

I am as healthy

as a cucumber

so I sit a little longer

in the window sun




at 60 you have 6

problems they say


at 70 you have 7

and 54 at 54




her cold-water cure works for

pain as well as melancholy




after Mandelstham


the first apple

speaks as it ripens


the second apple

listens as it falls


the third apple under-

stands as its eaten




if you can walk

a half mile

places connect


if you can walk

100 yards

then that’s it




life with lock-

down (37): more


notebooks, brassier

birds, less breath





a friend’s




the term

of a birth




eachy peachy

one side says

no better


pear plum

one side says

no worse




days in the week:

scant good in

a slew of bad




for this first-waver

long chain replication


pushes the pain

through day 60




flipping the journal recto to face

recto to pass into spikes of pain




my wee world will stay wee

but what of my hurt heart?




she dreams we

held hands

in the undersett

of a tartan rug




she says he’s

not the battle


he’s the battle-





everyone’s out



with their hair

too long



my body speaks

does yours hear?




here is your Google

Location History


data for May: a red

dot without a line




these morning poems

they don’t write

themselves you know




the thing about an anchor is

at a gentle angle it can be lifted




the drawing gone wrong

becomes the loveliest

paper for lists




counting the days

‘til the back

channel meds

pop through

my letterbox




I can see the sea but it’s so long

since I could walk to the harbour




here’s to love,

pure breath, and


a bolt of sun

up your arse




raise the arms

over the head

palm-to-palm finger

tips holding a beam

let the body open




the postures we make

the postures we take

the postures we keep




the tiger in the tank

(the thorn in the paw)




snuck behind

the cause


is the cause

of the cause




filling out my PIP

form in pencil


there’s no tick-box

for ‘in the sun’




they’re already div-

iding the old


fatigue from the

new fatigue




a tick

for the walk


to the post box

with my PIP form




day 6 of the off-

label trial:

less sore, more tired

and my muse

is depleted




3 days recycling in the hall

by the door is my jenga




the sunset turns

pink for next-


doors long drawn-

out orgasm





the economy


open up

the virus



the pain




100 days on

the level with


the birds

in my window




she feels the pain

of ageing and not

remembering nouns




my friends who are ill

find my essay comforting


those who are well

find it worrying




some days what you most want

is just to know your own username




a wedding air –

prophetic and tender:

Niel Gow’s ‘Lament

for the death

of his second wife




before summer’s out

clear the path


I’ve an e-scooter to go

where my legs can’t




shame is

shame is

shame is

no use




people with phones walking dogs

people with dogs walking phones




this machine

could have been

made for me –

it has no





herbs to thin

   the blood


shrooms to un-

   flame the brain



laying their maps

miles on his


tiny loop walks

scale strips the glories




the child knows injuries –

what this the owl needs


is a bucket of worms

to treat its release


for Poppy





Alec Finlay

16.III.20 – 31.VII.20





All images © Alec Finlay 2020




Alec Finlay (Scotland, 1966) is an internationally-recognised artist and poet whose work crosses over a range of media and forms. Much of Finlay's work considers how we as a culture, or cultures, relate to landscape and ecology. Through permanent and temporary interventions, integrative web-based projects, and publications, Finlay weaves together generous experiential works, often collaborative, sometimes mapped directly onto the landscape, embedded socially or accessed online. Recently Finlay's work has focussed on place-awareness and ecopoetics.


Early in the pandemic, Finlay produced a Creative Tool Kit, a collaborative post with creative ideas to make a prolonged period of isolation easier to bear. Later during lockdown, Finlay wrote an essay ‘On Not Walking’ which reflects on how the virus affected his walking, and details his personal journey of pain cycles, recovery and relapse, both in relation to his original illness, M.E., and while suffering from long-term coronavirus. He also wrote the essay I’m protecting myself but I don’t feel protected published by Disability Arts Online ­and who describe it as ‘a timely reflection on the coronavirus crisis, the invisibility of disabled people and the absence of our voices in the face of what society could learn from our experience if there was less of a drive from the mainstream media to bury its heads in the sand.’ For other writings on disability, access, landscape and Covid-19 please see https://www.dayofaccess.co.uk/


Alec Finlay was selected for a 2020 Cholmondeley Award.








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