Abraham Lincoln is holding a letter to Manchester

Surrounded by office blocks and starbucks, boxed in, for now, with plywood, Abraham Lincoln is holding a letter to Manchester. To his brothers and sisters, Thank you for joining our fight and for downing your tools as we fought for justice and what is right.

Whilst the mill owners thought only of the costs incurred, kept sweating over timesheets and cotton loads, you thought of the lives yet to be lived free from slavery and for what is good for all humankind. You spoke of emancipation and showed your solidarity when you had hardly enough to feed or clothe your little ones lying in the slums.

You were not swayed by the propaganda of your nation, by the petty mindedness of your landlords and their accountants. When the cotton was delivered, you simply stopped spinning. Stilled, you could see and hear, breathe and remember how those selfserving masters massacred and killed in the name of progress. Theirs. There is nought so violent as the status quo.

Stop writing and filing and look up and out of the window at the man with a letter in his hand and remember the working men and women to whom it is addressed. Who stopped the deafening sound of the industrial revolution and who knew humanity and the deep southern sun could pierce the smog and grime of this city. This nation led by the same ruling class now as then.

Southern Cross, Saturday afternoon, 2021

Mask

How easily it slips, a physical manifestation of the mask you’ve worn your whole life to cancel the contagion of your true self, and, cornered, I can’t see you bare your teeth anymore. It allows me to see instead your fragility. Your face now a pleading window through which the birds fly. What else will escape?

A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson

A Portable Paradise published by Roger Robinson last year is essential reading. If you’re searching for meaning and truth in a world that has lost its mind, this is a good place to begin and to keep coming back to. I love poetry books. Like a good album, you can absorb the whole narrative and then come back and listen to each song more carefully and intently. The title sums up my feelings for all my poetry books, the only books I don’t feel guilty for keeping and hoarding.

This is a sobering and disquieting read and, for me, a privilege to be in the realm of Robinson’s Britain. Not the polite, sterile one that’s packaged and sold by the BBC, but the real, felt one. Beautiful and alienating, frightening and full of promise.

Clocked

How a government treats the most vulnerable people in society is a good indication of how we will all fare in a crisis like this one.  I’m relieved to live in a country where the government is doing something to ease the burden on those who struggle the most.  That is how you safeguard society, even if it means fewer spoils for the wealthy.  The economy will take a massive hit, but society will be stronger and we will slowly recover. 

In the UK and the US you are punished for falling on hard times.   The benefit system is punitive, stressful and inadequate as anyone working to implement it will testify.  The mental and physical burden of poverty is regarded by those right-wing governments as a just dessert from which there is little respite in healthcare or safe and affordable housing.  They treat people trying to make ends meet with contempt and, in recent years, haven’t even tried to hide it.  They are dog whistlers who incite fear and hatred and they have overseen the rise of a fascist faction that defends their ideology with violence and intimidation. Ultimately, they are about pushing people off the cliff to safeguard their own wealth.

They’re locked in a headspin because at last their own voters are beginning to understand the reality of that aggressive stance.  Their attempt to belittle society, ban collective action and kill any hope that an economy can serve everybody just backfired.  Society, collective action and lifting everyone out of poverty are precisely what is needed to help us get through this.

They’ve been exposed and they will be held to account.   That reality is slowly dawning on them too.   

The Claude Glass

1997 and a circle of students have learnt The Lady Of Shallot by heart.

In other parts, they are the big brass band and year seven perform a city coming to life.

Synthesized popcorn summons each player, city slicker, tourist, window cleaner, homeless.

Romeo and Juliet stand on desks and chairs to get the levels right. Not today, miss, I’m on my period.

Further away, the markets, wedding dress shops, and Skipton Castle.

An old oak tree fills the small courtyard and Juliet eats hot new potatoes with olive oil and salt out of a paper bag.

I climb a new mountain on the other side of the world and look back at it all through my Claude Glass.

Hardlines

The softness of folded letters

And finding some degree of similarity

Is a paradox

On this estate

Part public, part private

Partings of ways and manners

What was once important

Is smoothed over

On common ground

Where we live

Near Lovers Park

The survivor’s delicatessen

Suspended in air

Two balloons scrape our chimney

Lowry’s empty sky

There isn’t a breath

Of wind to keep us here

-they holler

We run outside

And help fold the sheets

On promised land.

On the shelf

Fortitude

Is that a word?

Walking with a fragile heart

Drawing conclusions.

Spine

The big sleep

Sounds appealing

All our secrets

Running wild

Arrival

Lightfast interior

No black and white photograph

Just two of earth’s own.

Spring

Score pacts through red clay

Fingertip wavy ink trails

Gathering the prey.

Summer

Blood’s sudden distance

In the need for possession

Your disgust haunts me.

Autumn

Ceremonial

Leaves an absence of colour

Still unfastened day.

Departure

Fish, bird, skin held taut

Language, tribe, vast stretch of land

Between you and I.