Sacred Cantatas (after J.S. Bach). A poem by Neil Fulwood

BWV 31
(Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret)

Heaven laughs! The earth exults. The sky
above the parks and woods and boating lakes
is the blue of postcards and calendars.
Which is all well and good for those who live

within walking distance of parks and woods
and lakes. The rest of us, our once-a-day
period of exercise beginning by order
at our own front door, are gifted a different glory:

a radiance that expands across the estate,
the chippie, the vape shop, the Premier store
bathed in its light. The real-time bus stop signs
blink out their service cancelled message.

BWV 183
(Sie werden euch in den Bann tun)

A fortnight of it, climbing the walls;
armed with an excuse for driving –
as if we would meet blockades,
tanks, men with guns – we set out.

The estate was dead (bad choice
of word); those few out walking
had heads down, eyes turned away:
the etiquette of the prison yard.

We drove; encountered no roadblocks,
saw instead those places forced to close:
the hair salon, the bookies, the café,
the synagogues they have put you out of.

BWV 14
(Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit)

If God were not with us at this time
would solace be found in this mobile phone app
that totals the number of steps we have taken
around the estate during this, our once a day
allowance to leave the house for exercise,
Lord be praised! Would we find our calm

in this broken-concrete pilgrimage; our
hearts’ fulfilment? Would we recognise
in these empty streets, these nervous windows,
in the fly-tipped rammel near the bingo hall
the unimaginable mystery of God’s design?

BWV 34
(O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe)

To the nurses, the checkout staff, the delivery drivers:
those our leaders snubbed as unskilled; those
who earn a pittance. They have allowed the rest of us
to withdraw, shut ourselves away, close

the door on social contact, and just maybe flatten
the curve. And those, too, who have made
themselves available, online or over the phone,
to counsel, assist, advise or simply listen.

To the keepers of the eternal fire, the source of love:
these words of thanks when words don’t seem enough.

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