after the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017
No smiling homeward lifts for them; no smiles.
No straight to bed, no ringing in the ears.
No whistle for them: the start struck the end
with the explosive speed of a viral thought.
So now you see these faces, unveiled of vanity,
stripped to the rawest emotions in the face of loss.
And there will be no understanding, only feeling.
The youngest eight, they said, the youngest eight.
We’re never closer than when we’re slapped to life
by death; than when a nation for one moment
is left to turn to hurt like this, & wonder at it.
To those who have glimpsed this city stripped
down to the urban bones the Eye is blind to,
those I knew, travellers on the one road,
the leather-clad followers of the pale shambolic
who launched raw meters from pockets to prosaic skies,
unfolding a.m. highs along the dawning Thames,
sweethearts of the middleclass who sought the novel
sides of sickliness & wrote about all they found,
who essayed the developments of the self through each degree
of isolation among the enveloping crowd, a crowd of mirrors,
who found beauty blooming in fields of bleak brick
for the illegally expressed, the alleyway gallerygoers
of viral visions sprayed across the broken backs of
indifferent towerblocks packed with affordable youth,
to that same man – I saw you at home, I saw you far out
withdrawn from the sober day in subways, I saw you
smoking sorrow down to the borrowed filter, I saw you
praying warmth beneath the wait of hours, I saw you
in all manner of fucked from bridge to park to
your own front door or just the one you hung around
& I understand it all, I think. You could have been my uncle:
just as anonymous & numbed to the merciless streets
we didn’t know we didn’t want to be on at eighteen
while southbank ghouls itch away the hours, materialise
to fix heads, drag habitual bodies to abandoned midnights
& prey on the cleanest of sons & daughters
who are in the tireless memories of forgotten parents.
I remember the cunning of cracked minds, the ill-at-ease
in morning need, noon need, need of night to feed,
the baggy sleeve that becomes the blade, the thrust
& rust & speed & blood I ask for with all my naivety,
wallet & phone & preconceptions spilt into upper hands
as children lie sheltered in sleep above streetlight
& there are no victims, only the losing & the lost.
What They Shared
I knew nothing more than the surface, couldn’t have
seen the first tear in that rare script of their oneness
if right there & then they’d shown it to me.
Maybe I saw only what I wanted to see; maybe
saw only what I wanted: two strangers bound
and divided only by their pasts.
But they were as blind as I; could never have
seen it coming: going from unthinking joy to
planned talks of separate futures; could never have
known that they were never safe in love;
that all the finished sentences & bold statements of heart,
all the hotel rooms, candlelight & promises in the world
can’t quell the unmovable currents of time.
Instead, we know now to trust in one thing only:
that dying hope will later shed; and it is enough
to have loved at all.