In Competition No. 3234, you were invited to submit either a poem or a short story entitled ‘Covid’s metamorphoses’.
Thanks are due to Frank Upton, who suggested this tremendous and timely challenge. It attracted a pleasingly large and diverse entry (overwhelmingly made up of verse rather than prose), in which the limerick was well represented. Here is an example from Jerome Betts:
A virus with spikes like a mine
Whose effects can be no less malign
Has a trick that’s worth noting
As it changes its coating
To defeat each fresh vaccine design.
Other highlights included a riff, from R.M. Goddard, on ‘Ghost Town’ by the Specials, Martin Parker’s twist on Noël Coward’s ‘Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans’ and Yeatsian echoes courtesy of Max Ross.
The winning entries are printed below and earn their authors £25 each.
The virus dealt me an Olympian blow,
Left me like Io — ravished from on high,
So reeling, so brain-fogged, I didn’t know
Whether I was a quadruped or bi.
The hands of Heaven seized me like a pawn,
A prop, a toy of trivial concern.
They choked my nights and darkened every dawn.
They taught me I had new pain yet to learn.
Callisto-like I growled and mourned and clawed,
Acting out loss-of-language desolation.
For one who has felt cast off by a god,
A constellation’s little consolation.
The hits keep coming when you catch the eye
Of deities. Revenge and appetite
Tell you their will. You dare not ask them why,
Nor try to tell them what you think is right.
They fuck us up, the Covid strains,
and screw us proper when they do.
Mutating madly, changing lanes,
they spread like crazy, then renew.
Outrageous in their global span,
as hydras sprouting endless heads,
they hand on misery to man,
mad monsters bouncing on our beds.
We try to screw them up in turn,
contrive our vaccines; off, begone!
But merrily they keep transforming,
Delta begets Omicron.
Adapting far too fast to change,
they rush like loo rolls off a shelf.
Get well beyond infection range,
and don’t catch any germs yourself.
Begins, an egg; becomes a sprat;
develops wings of airy gauze;
abruptly, adds a pound of fat,
an embryonic rat, with paws
that dabble in the drooling pools
where curious viruses abound —
observes their tips and tricks and tools,
until, chameleon-like, it’s found
a way to ape a weird disease;
grows hair, grows fur; has noxious breath;
keeps crews of parasites and fleas,
the better to dispense the Death:
at last invisible, it shrinks
and travels round by stink or smell,
breeding in basins, bowls and sinks —
as good a tale as experts tell.
The endless metamorphosis of Covid,
A nasty, vicious, ever-changing bug,
Has left us feeling anything but smug,
And makes us think of Kafka more than Ovid.
We’ve tried to keep the horrid thing at bay
With vaccines, social distancing and masks,
But still, the question everybody asks
Is: Should we fear a mass extinction day?
For some new variant, some foul mutation,
Some dirty trick it’s hiding up its sleeve,
Could wipe us out, the scientists believe.
Farewell, Mankind! So we, in trepidation,
Await, blaspheming or with piety,
The dreaded Omega variety.
Double, double, toil and trouble,
Render all your hopes to rubble:
Entrails of infected bat,
Hell-broth in a viral vat.
Cast a spell for each mutation,
Circulate through every nation
Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,
Stir the brew and let it swelter.
Add a variant of concern,
Stoke the fire and watch it burn,
When the potency is gone
Spike the gruel with Omicron.
Yet our mischief is not done,
Our web of evil will be spun
Within our cauldron, hour by hour,
The changing face of Covid’s power.
Arising in the East it came
The bearer of the virus crown
As fearsome as the Mongol name
Before whose power the world bowed down.
And with each pitiless advance
It changed and changed again its name,
Each variant another chance
To be both different and the same.
With such Protean skills it dodged
The fate that smallpox had to face
And seemed interminably lodged
Pandemic in the human race.
But now a form not seen before,
Both quick to come and soon to go,
Has lost its threat as roaring maw
And dwindled to a little o.
No. 3237: single-minded
You are invited to submit a piece of prose, in the genre of your choice but using only monosyllables. Please email entries of up to 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 16 February.
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