Explaining a Few Things

Photograph by Jason Hawkes

You will ask: and where are the lilacs?
And the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
And the rain unceasingly spattering
words, drilling them full
of holes 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?
Brother, my brothers!
Everything
loud with children’s voices, the rumble of trains,
blocks of throbbing life,
homes of my ward of Notting Barns with the Westway
Like a snake winding 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.
Murderers with clipboards and security guards,
murderers with laptops and masterplans,
murderers 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.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the hungry weeds would bite and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would hate!

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,
and from every ruin of London
London rises,
and from every dead child a gun with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are 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 leaves
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!

– Adapted from Pablo Neruda’s 1936 poem about the Spanish Civil War

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