Explaining a Few Things

Photograph by Jason Hawkes

You will ask: and where are the lilacs?
And the world-changing new politics?
And the dreams unceasingly speaking words,
embellishing them with flowers and birds?

I’ll tell you everything that happened.

I lived in a neighbourhood,
a neighbourhood of London, with council estates,
and tower blocks and trees.

From there you could look out
across Kensington’s gardens,
like a sea of grass.
My tower was called
Grenfell Tower, because at its feet
green fields grew: it was
a good-looking tower
with its families and children.
Isaac, do you remember?
Remember, Jeremiah?
Mehdi, do you remember
(from beneath the ground)
do you remember my window where
the June sun drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brothers, O my brothers!

Everything
loud with children’s voices, the rumble of trains,
blocks of throbbing life,
homes of my ward of Notting Dale with the Westway
Winding like a snake through the grass.
Our prayers reached the sky,
a deep heartbeat
of feet and hands filled the streets,
pounds and pence, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked up flats,
the texture of metal in the cold sun
from which our homes were insulated –
aluminium and foam panels
bolted to our sides.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the flames
leaped out of the walls
devouring human beings,
and from then on fire,
burning metal from then on,
and from then on ashes.

Killers with clipboards and questionnaires,
murderers with laptops and masterplans,
assassins in suits speaking lies
came through the fire to kill children
and on the streets the ashes of children
fell softly, like the ashes of children.

Consultants who ignore those they consult,
councillors whose counsel the residents spat out,
contractors whose cladding killed those it clad!

Faced with you I have seen the smoke
of Grenfell rise like a tower
to devour you in one bonfire
of greed and pride!

Corrupt
bureaucrats:
see my dead home,
look at Grenfell Tower:
from every window burning metal springs

instead of flowers,
but from every ruin of London
London will rise,
and from every dead child a voice cries,
and from every crime justice is born
that will one day find the bull’s eye
of your hearts!

And you will ask: why does his poetry
not speak to us of dreams and flowers
and the gardens of this green city?

Come and see the ashes in the streets.
Come and see
The ashes in the streets.
Come and see the ashes
In the streets!

– Simon Elmer, adapted from Pablo Neruda’s 1936 poem about the Spanish Civil War

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