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By: George Neame

About The Poem

Shortly before lockdown, my partner and I were apart for a long time as we struggled to meet and prove the requirements for her visa to join me in London. During that time I saw the Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate Britain, and was struck by how his famous sunflowers are so saturated and heavy that they don’t even stand upright. Thankfully my partner was finally able to move to the UK, and only 6 months later we went into lockdown. We were forced to be together permanently, in a complete reversal of our fortunes from earlier that year. This poem is about our situation, but hopefully speaks more widely to the people who made a commitment (whether intentionally or not) to live solely with another person or other people during a difficult time. I read some really encouraging and inspiring stories of friends moving in together, and people in new relationships who took the plunge to lockdown together, and that spirit of togetherness really moved me. The blossoming of those relationships reminded me of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, stuck in a single vase but so full to the brim of the energy of life that they almost fall from their stalks.

The Poem

For a while there, the shapeless mass of your absence stole
more of the bedsheets than you ever did.

The weight of your absence blockaded
the breeze through the kitchen window
and the smell of your absence—
the smell of your absence festered like
burnt coffee or the dampness of wet towels
draped over the radiator.

You came to me at my hour of need,
delivered yourself like a bouquet
into this corner of southwest London
before the letterbox was locked.

We thought we might wither and fade or
burst from the windows like weeds and wild nettles,
but cooped up in this cramped apartment
we learnt to live like Van Gogh’s sunflowers;
too gorged, too saturated with life
to sustain their own weight
or even dare trying.

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