What do you remember?
The disorientation?

That sense a tidal wave
was coming in slow motion?

The thumping restless grain
of nights no one could sleep,

when each breath tried to wash
you back from some dark sea?

Were you very lonely,
your mother in a fortress;

too much time to think,
screaming, shut down, listless?

Perhaps you heard that bleeping
monitor they have in hell?

Dressed in black to see your
tiny face weep on the call?

Since humans can recall
we’ve pierced beloved skin,

then let – against all instinct –
a trace of sickness in.

It’s hard to give another
the memory of harm

but memory protects us –
sit down then, bare your arm,

teach your blood to recognise
what all of us have suffered

and must, in our cells, resist.

Listen to the poem here

Artistic Statement

Reading reflections from individuals who visited the vaccine centre, I was struck by many of the difficult and painful memories. It’s important that we remember this suffering, and don’t hurry to move on without acknowledging what has been lost.

Researching the history of inoculation, a technique that preceded vaccination – from its ancient origins in India, Africa and China where it involved the deliberate introduction of material from smallpox pustules through inhalation or incision to protect against more serious infection – I was struck, too, by its relation to memory.

Modern vaccines enable our bodies to ‘remember’ an infection without us having to be infected. They introduce some harmless form or part of the virus or bacteria into the body, which creates a memory of infection in the form of antibodies and ‘memory cells’ – B- and T-lymphocytes that act quickly if the body encounters the same disease-causing agent again.

When we have our COVID-19 vaccinations, I like to think it is in memory of all those who have suffered from this terrible pandemic. We are promising to remember in our very bodies, and to be prepared to defend ourselves, together, if it returns.

Artist Bio