The Virion Suite
by Nathan Curnow
as part of Languid to the Moon
Virion hitched in dark traffic. Virion bested the bat. Virion reads cells like rooftop vines. Virion is blind for
the hunt. In the fever dream there is mask on mask on body under body under body. Virion knows how to
whistle in the wheeze. Virion is rotting and popping.
Where are your wings? Budding
What is your music? Cough
What are your eyes? Fever
Where do you live? Close
Where are you going? Closer
How do you get there? Cruise
Where is your crown? Magnify
What do you tell them? Death
Virion is the droplet and downpour. Virion works the seams. Virion plays rock-paper-scissors and crowns,
and doesn’t like to lose. How lungs become a quiver and bodies an animal stew. Here lies the man from the
buffet line who ate all that fingered food. Praise the Creator, says Virion, passing from temple to temple.
Praise the rattling cough in the branches. Praise the hand that turns the handle. Virion wants children back
at school. Virion has iso fatigue. Virion squeezes lemons for UV light and pisses disinfectant.
Spread is the animal leaking
Spread is the leaking cage
Spread over six million cases
Propogar as it is in Spanish
Spread is the row of coffins
Spread is the bulldozed dirt
Spread is the funeral service
Ten chairs two metres apart
Virion wants to be airborne. Virion wishes for wings. Virion cooks a new strain that will fly from New York
to Paris. In the fever dream there is a wet towel that has to be endlessly swallowed and the man who ate all
that fingered food saying, come let me show you the temples. There is Virion dressed as a plague doctor,
coated in animal fat, daubing each breath with silhouette, smoking in every passage. Virion is arranging its
wet eggs. Virion wants to kiss. Virion, the death song of a system, singing spit, spit, spit.
Once, the days tripped over themselves
like children in a three-legged race,
now we close our doors on quiet streets
and stay home in uncalendared trance.
We remain duty-bound and weary
to this practically abstract life
because the world is a cruise ship
we can’t escape, everyone waiting in dock.
Meanwhile the weather grows colder
and we drift into a kind of torpor,
asking: who are we now and how shall we live?
All the questions we’ve come to fear.
a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility
Torpor is a survival tactic perhaps most commonly associated with the busy hummingbird. Having the
fastest metabolism of any animal on the planet the hummingbird slips into this totally involuntary state,
one induced by natural, external conditions, to conserve energy.Characterised by complete inaction and a
lack of any behavioural aspects, torpor is also common among other migratory birds who use it to
recuperate while covering vast distances. It has also been observed in small animals such as mice,
badgers, hedgehogs, dwarf lemurs… and bats.
Where will the journey take us?
Will the place resemble home?
Did the dormancy delivering us
originate from some bat host?
Will anyone say we made it,
that the world has really changed?
Have we met the great migration
that beckoned inside ourselves?
Tell me the time wasn’t wasted.
Convince me there wasn’t just death.
Our children deserve an answer.
They will ask us what we learnt.
3. Virion did a deal with the hand
Because Virion couldn’t beat the hand
at rock-paper-scissors and crowns
Virion said: ‘Why don’t I join you?
Be the branches and I’ll be the bird.
Bear me, nest me, coddle me now
in the groove of a fingerprint fork
and you won’t be taken for granted.
With me you’ll be shown respect.
They won’t hold you out to be shaken
like some oaf at the end of a limb.
You’ll feel no bite of a high five,
turn no handle, press no button.
No digit will be stuffed in a nostril,
squirmed around until it’s clean.
Instead you’ll be washed entirely
for twenty seconds every time.’
The hand that rocks the cradle,
which had never ruled the world,
replied to Virion with a thumbs up
hoping to have a thumb war.
Virion took it as a ticket to hitch
and settled into a knuckle fold.
Virion said, ‘Link your thumbs,
now flap. Convince me I’m a bird.’
4. Super Moon
That night beneath the super moon
and all the streets lay quiet, and you said something
about the moon as a lens on the barrel of a microscope.
We were suddenly plated on a thin slide, watched over
by a cosmic eye that came peering through magnificent light—
some inter-galactic scientist! We were a system of dumb
reactions, an embarrassing ecology of panic, buying
toilet paper, conspiracy theories, on guard for iso offenders.
Provoked by a siege of messages that kept us restless, dull and beat,
we signed in to the marathon screening of stats—the ever
rising line, the curve. And though many weren’t on it, too many were
and we knew it belonged to us all. The scientist watched
the jigsaw, everybody a matter of cells, including
those who stood in their backyard with abundant time for sky
before retreating for more news about where all this might go.
That night we read of the Comet SWAN flying on a giant arc
from the unimaginable Oort Cloud out there in the depths of space.
It was coming with a haloed coma and long, ferocious tail
to appear as a speck one morning, a fuzzy blob to the naked eye.
You said something about the coldest seasons burning infinite fire.
There we were and here we are drawn on a low horizon.
5. Virion is for V
VA VE VO SPit
Virion watches V for Vendetta. Virion likes Vincent van Gogh. Virion is a vomit in the Vatican. Virion is a
Roman numeral. Of the Vervet monkey there is V subspecies. Virion is versed in the Vegas. Virion and
Voldemort play Got Your Nose. Spoiler alert: Virion has it. Every sneeze into an elbow is a salute to V.
Virion prescribes Viagra. V is worth four but should be worth five when played in a game of Scrabble.
VIM VEG VIG VUG SPit
Virion has shares in Ventolin. Virion rides a Vespa. Virion became a war of words breaking out over
ventilators. The letter W is an insult unless it’s pronounced ‘double v’. Virion and V are a dancing flash
mob that everyone hopes will leave. Virion is rowing to Varanasi. Virion vibes with Vishnu. V is a viper in
hieroglyphics between the bird symbols U and W.
VITA VADE VOLT VOMS VAIR SPit
Virion and the viper are viviparous. Virion drinks vodka with veterans. V makes a Norse Venn diagram and
guess what’s in the middle. Two V in a row are snake fangs. Three V in a row are shark teeth. Tell any Flat
Earther the world is shaped V and they won’t believe the evidence. V has to balance on the tiniest tip. Y is
just V on a stick. Virion wants every single word. Say V. Say V and spit.
6. Anzac Day 2020
We stand in the fall of our driveway
as the flames in our hands flicker out
so we turn to each other relighting
tiny candles on a quiet street.
Good neighbours are emerging,
the new, the rough, the strange,
facing each other as families
in memory of those who served.
The day to come is dawning red,
clouds drifting in its wine
and across the way the pine trees
remain still, dark and silent.
They were planted for the orphans
who enlisted in World War One.
We wait for light to reach them
on the strand of a bugler’s horn.
Slow and steady, doleful notes
moving like a funeral train
that rolls away to never leave
any doubt of what they gave.
Then kids reply with instruments
they’ve practised in isolation,
as clouds drift on in dawn wine,
the pines still dark and silent.
7. Virion spoke with Ouroboros
Virion asked, so the snake replied:
‘Stop thinking about the moment,
curve your tail up into your mouth,
then roll along their timeline. Swallow
yourself until you have no end, returning
to hoop their charts, going round and
round forever, if you only think long
enough. Be the war, wave after wave.
Good wars are never done. Roll over
their fields, let them build again then
wheel into a new generation.’ Virion said,
‘What about wings?’ The snake hissed,
‘Only time! You’ll be written, depicted,
analysed and delivered into folklore.’
Virion asked, ‘But where is your end?’
‘Exactly!’ replied the snake, mumbling
as the eternal O, its tail inside its mouth.
Virion didn’t quite catch it, so asked
the snake to repeat, and then Ouroboros
rolled away as if the lesson was learnt.
Virion crunched the numbers, rising
on a steeper course, plotting its fame
alongside our fatigue, climbing
higher in the hope of wings.
In the cold-haul season of a spent leaf town
we reach for our autumn oars, the rakes come out
in the month of May, we are garden gondoliers.
Look! In that yard over there, over in the next,
all steering out a channel in an upright dance of balance
that takes us nowhere really in our beanies,
coats and gloves, the angle work of straight lines
eddying to piles. Soon the job is over and we’re standing
upon a lawn once covered in dew bitten paper curls
dry enough to burn. They smoulder in a mustard smoke
as we tidy the piles again, to wait with hands upon the hilt
in the chill of a ponderous prayer. Sometimes
we follow the trail up, craning our necks to the sky,
offering the litter back to height while we turn winter wise.
And there above the branches, a silent, steady moon
steering with a J shaped curve across the wake of blue.
9. Virion of the Second Wave
Virion finer and finer, swooping in winter mist. Virion rolling and rising, mounting a second wave. The
nursing homes are burning as families wait for word. The post-shock chills. The lockdown pain. The eyes
above every mask. Virion is twenty-one million cases. Virion wants to baptise. Vaccine is the only v word
that Virion doesn’t like.
Virion with the fiery head, Virion with frozen tail. Virion enters the stressed hive bringing colony collapse
disorder. Everyone fears the Virion bird passing over like the Angel of Death, neighbours policing
neighbours like some new and old religion. Virion preys on peoples’ sins. Virion says all is forgiven. Virion
hides from the nasal swab and its five second turning tickle.
Virion flies over Bakery Hill, perching on the Town Hall mast. Virion smug with the clusters closing in
around Ballarat. Virion gawps the boulevard to dive on their parade—the schools, churches, playgrounds—
then West toward the lake. Up there the birds in their own swan time step out onto the road, toddling
before the drivers who always expect to move. Virion watches a lone bird forcing the traffic to slow, one car
then another, grinding it down to a complete and utter halt.
10. Languid to the Moon
The cases rose in Melbourne,
it’s true we were mostly spared,
but fearing the ruin of the virion bird
dug us into our ‘them and us’ village.
Some nights I went to Lake Esmond
just to get out of the house, to see the drunk,
black cockatoos fly over in languid grace.
The shrieking graveyard wakers, delinquents
of evening sky, that sink to climb on every beat
to the moon above the quarry. We were lucky,
Ballarat, weren’t we lucky, to reckon our town
so small, lying in our cold, club basin, blaming
the big city world? Lucky I say, but said nothing,
not to the flock or God, as the cases fell and the wattle
dropped its pollen on puddled yards.
I was tired of COVID coping.
I was angry and bored at home. Squawking,
deranged, I fell into myself just looking
for a way to go. On went the downturn
climbing, on calamitous pitch and fork
that cast a way toward nowhere, our lives
spent scrolling news. I was at the lake, once a quarry,
to watch those drunk cockatoos
fly over the water that hides a rig, a crane
left standing below. I love you Ballarat, there
I said it, with your empty leads and veins,
your open shafts of rubbish packed
full of your small-fed mind. But it’s time to reach
that dumping depth, hook the rig to the flock
and fly, owning up to our weight in the open,
raucous, in full-voiced play. Soon we won’t fear
change we’ll lead it with a chance
to think up and out, beyond the spoil of our local lap
for a brave and welcome field, in a dream that flows
with old dreaming under staggered birds and true
who steer on country further more, languid to the moon.