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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

Going Viral: The Edge of Life

Coronavirus – which probably doesn’t infect textiles, like the virus in my poem

I’ve been having a bit of a recovery period post-NaPoWriMo. Well, I did write 31 poems during April; so a little pause is not unreasonable…

Just spotted this story about the new and potentially-pandemical (it’s a word now), coronavirus. The name sounds quite pretty – like a crown, or the corona of the sun. But sadly its symptoms – possible respiratory and kidney failure – are far from pretty. Here’s hoping it does not become any more than the threat of a pandemic.

And while we wait to see if this lurgy heralds the apocalypse-proper: here’s a piece I wrote some time ago about a (possibly) more benign viral pandemic, the source of which is a fusty academic (hey – that rhymed)…

The Edge of Life

Though to others it seemed

he had been quarantined

for some years now

in his collegiate room,

his conjectural womb

and perma-furrowed brow:

something had been transmitted.

He noted it first

with the patches

he had fitted

to his elbows,

the latches

of the arms

to his seat;

the spine

turning pages

a day

at a week

at a year

at a time.

They relapsed

from leather

to tweed,

and then so

did his seat.

In one dark-bound tome

spreading up the walls

he sought acute definition,

(an unambiguous home

in his first edition)

for the current

and developing


It stated:

A virus

is an infectious agent

which replicates within a host,

composed of RNA or DNA,

a protein coat,

an organism

at the edge of life.

But not, it seemed now,

at the edge of fashion;

not an agent

in exclusive ration.

An organism

with ample hosts,

in trousers, shirts,

blouses and coats,

a coarse-woollen contagion

of replicant ghosts.

Although no-one could don

this material as he could

they unwittingly would

as the symptoms upon

their attire began.

No fabric was immune:

polyester perished,

silk succumbed,

denim died, and

cotton went to meet

its Tailor.

He saw the pandemic

progress across campus

and county and country

from his leather-patch window;

the edge of life,

the tattered hem,

the volume’s fraying sheets.

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